If the current conjecture rings true, LeBron James could make his final career appearance at Atlanta in a Los Angeles Lakers uniform when the team visits the Hawks on Friday night.
The four-time NBA MVP has been bothered by his team’s lack of success this season. The Lakers are 14-21, marking the second-worst record for any of his teams through 35 games. Only the Cleveland Cavaliers, at 11-24 in his rookie season, were worse.
The Lakers own the third-worst record in the Western Conference and are 3 1/2 games behind the Golden State Warriors for a play-in playoff spot. The Lakers are 1-2 on their current five-game trip.
“I don’t want to finish my career playing at this level, from a team aspect,” James said. “I want to still be able to compete for championships because I know what I can still bring to any ballclub with the right pieces.”
James had 27 points in a 112-98 loss to the Miami Heat on Wednesday and is averaging 27.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 6.6 assists a game. In 60 career games against Atlanta, he is averaging 27.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.3 assists.
“I’m a winner and I want to win,” James said. “Playing basketball at this level, just to be playing basketball, is not in my DNA. We’ll see what happens and see how fresh my mind stays over the next couple of years.”
Dennis Schroder, who played his first five seasons in Atlanta after being the team’s No. 1 draft pick (No. 17 overall) in 2013, played through left-foot soreness and scored 15 against the Heat. He is averaging 10.5 points in 21 games.
The Hawks played without three starters in Wednesday’s 108-107 loss to Brooklyn — leading scorer Trae Young (calf contusion), leading rebounder Clint Capela (calf strain) and De’Andre Hunter (ankle sprain). Young is averaging 27.3 points and 9.9 assists. The injured trio accounts for 54.3 points on a team that averages 114.3.
Atlanta stayed close to the Nets thanks to 24 points, nine rebounds and eight assists from Dejounte Murray, 21 points and eight rebounds from John Collins, and 18 points with a season-high 13 rebounds from Onyeka Okongwu.
“I saw fight from our guys,” Atlanta coach Nate McMillan said. “You can live with that. I thought from start to finish, we stepped up and played. We didn’t think about the guys that were out. The guys that were playing came out and played to win.”
Okongwu, the team’s first-round pick in 2020, has played well during Capela’s absence. He is averaging 8.8 points and 7.0 rebounds this season but is averaging 12.0 points and 9.3 rebounds in the six games since Capela was injured.
“The thing for me is to stay consistent,” Okongwu said. “Sometimes I can go a little up and down. It’s a long season, and I’m trying to work on that.”
Jalen Johnson played Wednesday despite foot pain and matched his career high with 14 points.
Atlanta and Los Angeles are meeting for the first time this season. The teams split the two-game season series a year ago, each winning on their home court.
–Field Level Media