LeBron James wanted it to be known, whether it was aimed at the Lakers’ front office, his locker room, the fans, whomever.
He was losing, playing games that didn’t matter and it wasn’t good enough.
And he said so.
The comments could’ve caused the Lakers to fracture, the front office to panic or the team to splinter.
Instead, they’ve done the one thing that ensures that James will be as mentally locked in and focused as possible. They’ve won.
On the second night of a back-to-back set with them missing three of their top six players, the Lakers sprinted alongside the younger, faster Kings. And with the game in the clutch, the older Lakers somehow managed to pull away, winning 136-134 on Saturday night.
Since James spoke out in Miami, the Lakers haven’t lost, pulling closer to .500 than they’ve been since the first week of the season.
“No one disagreed with that. … He’s stating facts,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said after the Lakers won their fifth straight. “It was almost like ringing the alarm. ‘Everyone wake up. It’s time to get over ourselves.’”
Ham said he didn’t view James’ comments in Miami as him calling out his team; instead, he viewed it as a call to group accountability, to say enough is enough.
On nights like Saturday, it seems as if that could be true.
The Lakers, playing without Anthony Davis, Austin Reaves, Lonnie Walker IV and Troy Brown Jr., outlasted the Kings in a high-scoring shootout full of late-game drama and big plays from virtually every Laker who touched the court.
One night after Russell Westbrook said, “There’s really no scout for speed,” they were at it again, racing with some of the fastest legs in the league.
And somehow, they never slowed down.
After 47 minutes, 53.2 seconds, a tie score and 268 points, the Lakers seemed like they’d have a chance to win the game — two Dennis Schroder free throws awaiting them after a foul called on De’Aaron Fox, who had tied the score a possession earlier.
On a night when everything moved fast — the game suddenly stopped for a foul review triggered by Sacramento coach Mike Brown.
The challenge was unsuccessful and as cowbells clanged, Schroder buried the two free throws. Earlier in the final minute, his hustle on an inbounds pass flipped possession and gave the Lakers a chance to finish the Kings.
Fox attempted a last-second three-pointer to try to win, but for one of the few times all night, the ball didn’t go in for him.
James scored 37, Schroder added 27 and Thomas Bryant had 29 and 14 rebounds. Westbrook had 23 and 15 assists off the bench, the Lakers now just two games under .500.
The intensity required for the Lakers to win without Davis has to be draining, with minutes starting to pile up on the players, especially James.
But Ham said he and his team are committed to the marathon nature of the season, even if Saturday was just one game shy of the halfway point of the season.
“I see it as the glass half full. I see a ton of potential,” Ham said pregame. “When I was hired here, I was excited about the whole process of turning this thing around. And the type of guys we got in the locker room, it’s a lot of talk about our roster all the time. But to me, if you really put in the work and you really buy into the group theory and what we’re trying to get done as a unit, you set yourself up for a ton of success.”
The Lakers, for the last few weeks, have experienced some, climbing back into postseason contention.
And Saturday in Sacramento, a lot of those strengths didn’t waver.
James was once again an age-defying, high-jumping bulldozer. Schroder continued his best run of the season, Bryant’s fill-in work for Davis remained remarkable. And Westbrook had one of his best games since joining the Lakers.
If there was a problem, it was once again turnovers — though that’s a bit of a necessary evil if you’re going to run the way the Lakers have been running.
Saturday they had 17 — including two late from James.
Still, “fast” has been an identifying trait at a time when “injured” and “undermanned” could’ve easily become center stage.
“I think we’re able to stay afloat because guys, they can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and how we’re trending in the right direction,” Ham said pregame. “I embrace all of this every day.
“I love it. I’m blessed. I thank God every day to be in this seat with this group of people, with the support I have around the building. I’m good, man. We gonna do it.”
Saturday, they did.