If the current conjecture holds true, LeBron James could make his last career appearance in Atlanta in a Los Angeles Lakers uniform when the team visits the Hawks on Friday night.
The four-time NBA MVP has been plagued by his team’s lack of success this season. The Lakers are 14-21, marking the second-worst record for any of his teams across 35 games. Only the Cleveland Cavaliers, at 11-24 in his rookie season, were worse.
The Lakers have the third-worst record at the Western Conference and are three and a half games behind the Golden State Warriors to win a playoff spot. The Lakers are leading 1-2 on their current five-game trip.
“I don’t want to end my career at this level, from a team perspective,” James said. “I want to still be able to compete for the championship because I know what I can still bring to any dance club with the right pieces.”
James has 27 points in a 112-98 loss to the Miami Heat on Wednesday and is averaging 27.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 6.6 assists a game. In 60 games against Atlanta in his career, he averaged 27.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.3 assists.
“I’m a winner and I want to win,” James said. “Playing basketball at this level, just to play basketball, is not in my DNA. We’ll see what happens and see how fresh my mind will be in the next few years.”
Dennis Schroder, who played his first five seasons in Atlanta after becoming the team’s No. 1 draft pick (final No. 17) in 2013, struggled with a sore left foot and scored 15 goals against the Heat. He is averaging 10.5 points in 21 games.
The Hawks went without three starts in a 108-107 loss to Brooklyn on Wednesday – top scorer Trae Young (calf injury), top goal scorer Clint Capela (stretched) calf muscle) and De’Andre Hunter (ankle sprain). Young is averaging 27.3 points and 9.9 assists. The injured trio accounted for 54.3 points in a team with an average score of 114.3.
Atlanta closed in on the Nets with 24 points, nine rebounds and eight assists from Dejounte Murray, 21 points and eight rebounds from John Collins, and a season-high 18 points with 13 rebounds from Onyeka Okongwu.
Atlanta coach Nate McMillan said: “I’ve seen our boys fight. “You can live with that. I think from start to finish, we stepped up and played. We didn’t think about the people who were out. The players that are playing come out and play to win.”
Okongwu, the team’s first pick in 2020, played well during Capela’s absence. He is averaging 8.8 points and 7.0 rebounds this season but is averaging 12.0 points and 9.3 rebounds in the six games since Capela’s injury.
“The thing for me is to be consistent,” says Okongwu. “Sometimes I can go up and down a bit. It’s been a long season, and I’m trying to finish it.”
Jalen Johnson competed on Wednesday despite a sore leg and peaked his career with 14 points.
Atlanta and Los Angeles meet for the first time this season. The teams split the season’s two-game streak a year ago, each winning their own home ground.
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