LeBron James has shown few signs of aging despite being a month past his 38th birthday and playing in his 20th NBA season.
But Father Time may keep him from taking the court on Tuesday night, when James’ Los Angeles Lakers is slated to visit the New York Knicks in the first game of the season between the bicoastal rivals.
The Lakers will be completing a back-to-back set in New York after falling 121-104 to the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night. The Knicks haven’t played since Saturday night, when they fell 122-115 to the host Nets.
James sat out Los Angeles’ Monday game due to a left foot/ankle injury. Lakers coach Darvin Ham said Monday afternoon that the soreness in James’ foot is “really significant” and that the 18-time All-Star would be re-evaluated on Tuesday.
James has missed 11 games this season due to a variety of injuries but is averaging 30.2 points and 8.5 rebounds per game -- just shy of his best single-season marks in each category. He averaged 31.4 points when he was in Cleveland in 2005-06 and pulled down 8.6 rebounds per game for the Cavaliers in both 2016-17 and 2017-18.
In his most recent game, James flirted with a triple-double on Saturday and finished with 41 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in the Lakers’ 125-121 overtime loss to the Boston Celtics. The 74th 40-point effort of his career moved James within 117 points of surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most in NBA history.
“When you strip it down, you look at just the sheer number of years and the ability for him to produce -- I’m not sure we see it again,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said Monday.
One of James’ teammates made a bit of history on his own Monday as Russell Westbrook passed Hall of Famer Gary Payton for 10th place on the NBA’s all-time assist list. Westbrook now has 8,972 assists after racking up 10 at Brooklyn. Payton finished with 8,966.
“In the NBA, never dreamt of being in this position, nor getting to the point to where I’m next to some of the greats,” Westbrook said. “I’m just truly grateful and thankful for an opportunity to keep playing at the highest level and I don’t take any of that for granted.”
In addition to playing without James on Monday, the Lakers were missing Anthony Davis (right foot maintenance). Los Angeles fell 2 1/2 games behind the 10th-place Utah Jazz in the Western Conference and 3 1/2 games behind the Golden State Warriors and Dallas Mavericks, who are in a virtual tie for fifth place -- and the last two guaranteed playoff spots -- in the Western Conference.
The Knicks will be looking to snap out of their latest valley in what has become a roller coaster of a season. The loss to the Nets was the fifth in seven games for New York, which has given up at least 115 points in six of those contests.
The Knicks preceded their current skid by winning seven of eight from Dec. 31 through Jan. 15, a stretch in which they never allowed more than 114 points. In December, New York went on an eight-game winning streak before enduring a five-game losing streak.
Add it all up and the Knicks are trying to avoid the play-in tournament in the Eastern Conference. They enter Tuesday in seventh place -- a game behind the Miami Heat and 3 1/2 games clear of the 11th-place Indiana Pacers -- and are seeking to rediscover their defensive form on the perimeter.
New York is allowing opponents to shoot 34.9 percent from 3-point range, the fifth-best defensive mark in the NBA, but the Knicks allowed the Nets to shoot 55 percent (22 of 40) from long distance on Saturday.
“I just think we were a step late, and we weren’t ready to go,” Knicks point guard Jalen Brunson said Saturday night. “Just one step made all the difference. If we were there a step quicker, maybe those ones that were tough shots don’t go in.”