SALT LAKE CITY —
There are no secrets, no hidden agendas, no questions to be asked.
LeBron James was crystal clear — there’s one acceptable outcome for the rest of this season.
“It’s 23 of the most important games of my career for a regular season,” he said before the All-Star Game at Vivint Arena on Sunday.
And after a bit of a scare, that’s what James will have to deal with next.
James missed the second half because of a hand injury as Team Giannis beat Team LeBron 184-175. Boston’s Jayson Tatum, who was selected as MVP, scored 55 for Team Giannis, breaking Anthony Davis’ All-Star Game single-game scoring record.
When the NBA resumes, the Lakers will need to be in a sprint — the team is two games out of the final play-in spot and 4 ½ games out of the No. 6 seed.
James spoke pregame Sunday before captaining and drafting his team for the All-Star Game, and though he answered multiple questions about breaking the league’s all-time scoring record, James insisted his focus is elsewhere.
“I want to make a push to make the playoffs,” James said. “I don’t want to see myself not being part of the postseason for two years straight. It’s just not part of my DNA. We’re sitting up here talking about the record and things of that nature, and that’s all cool, but I’m more passionate about trying to make the postseason and give ourselves a chance to compete for another Larry O’Brien Trophy. That’s just who I am. That’s what I’m cut from.
“So I hope I can figure out a way to just make sure that I’m available on the floor every single night for these 23 games to give us a chance, give our group a chance to be able to compete every night and give ourselves a chance to win every night so we can give ourselves a chance to get into the postseason.”
James has been fighting foot and ankle injuries this season, the Lakers winning just five times in the 14 games he’s missed. James played in the Lakers’ final game before the break after missing the previous three.
He didn’t play in the second half Sunday after hitting a finger on his right hand on the rim, but it’s not an injury the Lakers are concerned about. James planned on playing sparingly Sunday.
“The most important thing for me right now is to maintain my health and be available to my teammates after this break because we have to make a strong push if we want to do anything special,” he said.
Sunday’s game began with a playground-style draft. From the starters, James selected Joel Embiid first before picking former teammate (and Lakers trade target earlier this month) Kyrie Irving second.
Lauri Markkanen was the final starter picked and Jaren Jackson Jr. was the final reserve selected.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, who captained the team opposite James, played the first possession of the game, dunked and exited — his injured wrist bad enough to limit his participation.
James vowed not to go “too crazy” during Sunday’s game — a rule he quickly violated when threw an alley-oop to himself off the backboard in the game’s first minutes.
He finished with 13 points in 14 minutes before shutting it down for the Lakers’ final push.
Paul George scored eight points off the bench for Team LeBron on a tough shooting night during which he missed all nine of his three-point shots.