LeBron James Makes History as First In-Season Tournament Winner

The Los Angeles Lakers added another trophy to their overflowing stockpile, LeBron James added another accolade to his stuffed resume and all’s right with the world. After Shohei Ohtani joined the Dodgers, the City of Champions had even more reason to celebrate Saturday when the Lakers ran away with the NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament title. HBO won’t make a series out of the LeBron-AD era, but just like the bubble title in 2020, we can’t discount what L.A. accomplished just to spite James in some existential GOAT debate.The playoffs are a battle of endurance. The IST is the NBA’s early bird special and it’s only apropos that James was named its first MVP on the verge of turning 39. LeBron is a singular star who exists out of time. Rightfully, Rob Pelinka has outfitted him with an antediluvian team that fits James like your pops rocking the outdated styles he rocked in the late 20th century. It might make you wince, but it’s practical. Alongside James is Anthony Davis, A two-way four who shoots long-twos at a high rate. Davis has the shot profile of Kevin Garnett, despite Darvin Ham’s wishes. Before the season, Ham stated his pipe dream of Davis shooting six triples a night. Instead, Davis attempted three triples in seven IST games and missed all three. In total, he’s shooting 23 percent from deep this season. while taking his fewest triples per contest since 2015, Davis’ third year in the league. In an era of streaming offenses chucking it from the cloud, the Lakers play brick-and-mortar Blockbuster basketball. That was on display in the In-Season Tournament final. Faced with a track and field team on hardwood, Los Angeles countered with power basketball. In addition to Davis providing a wall between the Pacers and the rim and the Lakers pulled away late. One night after a ho-hum 15 points against New Orleans, Davis delivered 41 points, 20 boards and four blocks against an undersized Pacers roster. As James approaches his 40s, he’s had to learn to pace himself. The Indiana Pacers should have been the one team to exhaust him by executing at an uncomfortable pace. Instead, James utilized that oldman strength to bully his way through the Pacers. True to form, the Pacers shot 41 triples. Los Angeles attempted 13 and made only two. The bread-and-butter of most modern offenses are the corner 3 and catch-and-shoot jumpers. This season, the Lakers are 29th in field goal percentage on catch-and-shoot threes and after the first month-and-a-half of the season were on pace to be one of the worst corner 3 shooting teams in modern history. Only three teams, the Pistons, Hornets and Magic attempt three-pointers less frequently than the Lakers. Two of those teams are lottery dwellers. While the Magic are a surprise out east, they’re also a middle-of-the pack team that would be ecstatic just to reach the postseason. Los Angeles has higher aspirations. The Lakers might play offensively like they study tape on VHS and would espouse the virtues of physical copies, but you can’t deny the results. Defensively, they’re rife with long, jumbo guards, streaky shooting 3-and-D forwards and a ball-switching dynamo who has already co-piloted Los Angeles to an NBA title. Every year we imagine is James’ last call for championship champagne. After the Lakers were swept by the Denver Nuggets, they spent the entire offseason brooding about the disrespect they felt. Saturday’s win isn’t an affirmation yet. The Nuggets are still the defending champions, but it’s another login the fire. The Lakers aren’t delusional after all. Their in-season title propels them forward with more legitimacy. Los Angeles went 7-0 in the IST, but that’s just a seven-game series played out over a month. Health will always be the X-Factor for any contender, but especially for L.A. Davis’ is constantly on the verge of creating tremors throughout the city when he heads to the locker room with an injury. Defensively, he has resembled a Defensive Player of the Year front runner, but his offensive output has declined. At 30, he’ll have to carry a bigger load especially against Nikola Jokic in April or May. We now know James can find his chi amid the 32-team In-Season Tournament sprint, but he and Davis can’t afford to pick their spots in a playoff marathon when the Nuggets and Suns are presumably healthy and coming at the ‘em every night during the third round of a seven-game series marathon.

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