LeBron's take more positive: 'Like where we are'

ByDave McMenamin ESPN logo
Wednesday, February 27, 2019

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Lost in the fallout from the Los Angeles Lakers' 0-2 road trip through New Orleans and Memphis wasLeBron James'declaration of self-accountability.

"Starts with me," he said after the loss to the Grizzlies on Mondaydropped the Lakers three games behind the San Antonio Spurs for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. "I just got to stay positive."

There was a noticeable shift in the four-time MVP's demeanor in Memphis -- the loss in the previous game to the Pelicans was so dispiriting that teammate Kyle Kuzma openly questioned the consistency of the team's body language, a not-so-veiled reference to James.

The positivity carried back to L.A. on Wednesday, when eight times during his seven-minute media session James repeated his confidence about the Lakers' current position.

"We like where we are," he said in his opening answer.

"I like where we are today," he continued minutes later.

It was a far cry from the dour outlook he projected after the loss to the Pelicans, when he called out his teammates' lack of experience in making a playoff run and all the commitment that goes into it.

James was asked if the statements he makes to the press are an echo of what he tells his teammates behind closed doors, or if he uses the media to send messages. He sidestepped the question, shifting the conversation back toward how he views the position his team is in.

"It's hard to kind of [determine] what I say to you guys that filters back to my guys," James said. "For those guys, I think we try to prepare every day. And we do prepare. Not try. We prepare every day for our next challenge and we did that today. And I love the positive mindset that we have, even with the struggle that we've had the last 10 games. I like where we are as a ballclub today with our mindset and hopefully going forward."

Lakers coach Luke Walton said he has tried to manage his team's mindset by steering the players toward what's said to one another in the sanctuary of the locker room, not what's being said in media sessions.

"I encourage a lot of our players not to pay attention to a lot of it," Walton said. "Because a lot of it will get twisted and headlines will read something totally different than what was said. So it's no different than anything else we've been preaching all year from the [get-go], and that's let's worry about our group. We're the ones that are going to make things happen or not, so we can't let outside distractions get in our way."

Walton was asked about a video that went viral on social media showing James apparently messing up his defensive coverage late in the Memphis loss, leaving the Grizzlies' Bruno Caboclo wide open to hit a 3-pointer that put Memphis up 103-96 with 2:30 remaining.

While explaining what L.A. ideally would have done on that possession, Walton essentially exonerated James even though the optics of the video made it look like James gave no effort on the play.

"They did a nice job," Walton said of the Grizzlies, later noting that Mike Conley's dominance down the stretch caused L.A. to scramble its defense a bit. "But we wanted LeBron to be the rotation man to [Jonas] Valanciunas or [Joakim] Noah, whoever was going to be out there, and him rotate to that big."

Whether it's rhetoric, trying to flip the proverbial switch or a shared mindset, James and Walton stayed focused on the opportunity to lead the Lakers to their first playoff berth in six years.

"We're fully aware of how difficult this job can be, but we also should be aware of how blessed we are to have these jobs," Walton said. "We come into work and play basketball every day. We should be pretty upbeat about that and excited."

James, who was reminded by a reporter that the Lakers' longest win streak of the season is only four games, kept pointing to sunny skies ahead.

"We have an opportunity today to make the most of today and not worry about what happened in the past," James said. "We're not worried about what the time strain is or what everyone else is saying. I think it's what happens in here and I feel good about where we are."