The Lakers are the hottest kind of garbage right now. The kind of refuse you smell on Bourbon Street the day after Mardi Gras. They’re 10 games below .500, sitting in ninth place, and fighting for a final chance to disappoint their home crowd in the first of possibly two play-in games. Russel Westbrook is firing off errant rebukes to his haters like they’re pull-up 3s with 15-plus seconds left on the shot clock. Anthony Davis is injured. I don’t have a punchline, that’s just his natural state.
The team is basically LeBron James trying to overcome Westbrook’s deficiencies every night. The only reasons to watch them — other than the IV of endorphins that is LeBron toiling away on a shitty Lakers team he created — is to “witness” LeBron surpass a milestone or try to score 50.
He’s been trying to do the latter two for about a month now, and it makes sense because it’s the only way they’re going to win games. It’s also the only way this season is going to matter to LeBron. He’s leading the league in scoring this season, and if he were to win the scoring title, he’d be the oldest player to do so by three years. The oldest player to officially win one? Michael Jordan at 34.
It’s an impressive accomplishment for sure. LeBron’s longevity and durability are soon to be second to none, and those traits are a massive reason he’s a lot of people’s GOAT. James haters should mentally prepare themselves for the christening ceremony after he breaks, and likely waltzes by, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s regular season scoring record. (I don’t know how they’re going to finish the game after the confetti drops and LeBron subsequently drops to his knees in euphoria.)
I’ve already accepted that he’s going to win the scoring title this year. He’s at an even 30 PPG — with Joel Embiid (29.8) and Giannis Antetokuonmpo (29.7) threatening him — and attempting the third most shots per game (21.7) of his career and the most since 2007-08. Clearly, Westbrook’s stat-chasing tendencies have worn off on LeBron because why else would he be doing this? Oh, that’s right, more ammo for the GOAT debate.
Antetokounmpo nearing that mark and surpassing LeBron could happen, but unlike the Lakers, the Bucks have caught fire and gotten healthy lately, going 8-2 in their past 10 games and getting Brook Lopez and Pat Connington back in the rotation. Milwaukee will have to avoid blowouts like Tuesday’s 126-98 win over Chicago that limit Giannis’ minutes and shot attempts. (He finished with 25 points on 12 shots in 30 minutes, five points, 6.5 attempts, and a few minutes below his season averages.)
As much as I’d like to see Embiid scorch the league from here on out, he now has to make sure gluttonous James Harden gets his fill. In the 25 games prior to Harden’s insertion into the lineup, Embiid failed to score 25 points only twice. Since Harden barged his way onto the court, Embiid has failed to score 25 three times in 12 contests, per Basketball-Reference.
What LeBron is doing at his age is remarkable and would be celebrated as such if, you know, it wasn’t in pursuit of self-adulation, and if a scoring title wasn’t trumpeted by his fans as if it was an actual title. The twilight of Jordan’s career, aka his time in Washington, was most likely as annoying for MJ’s detractors as this scoring title race is for people who dislike LeBron, but it was bereft of memes, social media fawning, and the most exhausting sports debate of my lifetime.
This is one of the better scoring titles races I can remember, and it would be really fun to enjoy it the way fans enjoyed that legendary George Gervin-David Thompson scoring race in 1977-78. Only I can’t because everything LeBron does this season is about his legacy because the Lakers are a grease fire of his own creation.
Would he be feverishly chasing the scoring title if this was a fully healthy Lakers team? Maybe, because the team’s construction is fatally flawed, but probably not. While the consolation prize is still impressive, it feels like a guy in search of an attaboy because his original goal of chasing another Larry O’Brien Trophy — the only hardware that matters in his contest with Jordan — imploded.