LOS ANGELES — LeBron James’ second stint in Cleveland — the 4 NBA Finals appearances, the primary championship in franchise historical past that snapped a 52-year title-less drought for the town — was an unabashed success.

Nevertheless it got here at a price.

Whereas James was good in these postseason runs, he performed 81 video games within the playoffs — a complete additional common season’s price — previously 4 years. When James left for Los Angeles, there have been individuals throughout the Cleveland Cavaliers’ group that privately joked that “the tread is off his tires.”

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And Sunday, earlier than his former crew beat the Los Angeles Lakers 101-95 at Staples Heart in a recreation against the LeBron-less Lakers, a member of the Cavaliers instructed ESPN he thought final season “took rather a lot out of” the now 34-year-old James.

It stands to purpose that James’ mileage was the motivating issue behind Lakers president Magic Johnson telling SiriusXM NBA Radio again in November that, “We are attempting to be sure that we watch his minutes but in addition that we do not run the whole lot by him as a result of now it’s Cleveland over again.”

Earlier than Cleveland won in Los Angeles Sunday, it had been awhile since LeBron James didn’t play and watched the Cavaliers win. Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY

In a single sense, Magic has already assured that James’ time in L.A. will likely be nothing prefer it was with the Cavs. The Lakers constructed their roster across the four-time MVP in 2018 a lot otherwise than the Cavs that surrounded him in 2014. That Cleveland crew was constructed on a star system – James, flanked by Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – after which crammed out with Three-point specialists that might feast off James’ means to create.

These Lakers have James surrounded by a handful of hopeful stars – Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball – and a supporting forged full of gamers that may theoretically play each methods whereas additionally offering some playmaking.

Magic continued his interview by saying, “We would like to stand up and down.”

And to his credit score, the final couple months have confirmed Magic to be proper on these two factors. LeBron’s 34.6 minutes per recreation are certainly a profession low for James on this, his 16th season. And the Lakers are taking part in the model of basketball he wished to see – the Lakers rank third within the league in tempo at 104 possessions per recreation.

This is the factor, although. There’s one plain means by which the Lakers are eerily similar to these latest Cavs groups: They stink with out him.

Within the final 4 seasons, Cleveland went Four-23 in video games by which James missed due to relaxation or harm. And that quantity in all probability would have been worse had James not performed each single one among Cleveland’s 82 video games in 2017-18.

And this season, by 10 video games with out James since he strained his left groin on Christmas Day, the Lakers are simply Three-7.

The eight-part docuseries, produced by UNINTERRUPTED and airing on ESPN+, will observe LeBron James and Maverick Carter’s inconceivable journey from Akron to the worldwide stage. Watch on ESPN+

There have been some tough moments since James went out, however Sunday felt like a brand new low.

It is one factor to blow a 15-point fourth quarter lead on the highway against Sacramento, because the Lakers did of their first recreation sans James. It is even one factor to dig a 17-point first quarter gap at dwelling against the New York Knicks – a Knicks crew that got here into the sport driving a nine-game losing streak – if you happen to find out about respecting each opponent out of it.

However to lose to a Cavaliers crew that got here into the night time with an Eight-35 file and on a 12-game losing streak? To solely rating 95 factors against a crew that hasn’t held a crew underneath 110 since Memphis on Dec. 26th? To shoot 7-for-34 from Three (20.6 %) and 16-for-27 on free throws (59.Three %) on your house flooring? It is inexcusable.

“I imagine on this group and I imagine that this group will play higher and we’ll begin profitable video games,” Lakers coach Luke Walton mentioned after a loss that drops the Lakers to 23-21, tied with the Utah Jazz for eighth within the West.

The truth that Walton even wanted to say one thing like that was saying one thing, seeing as this group beat the Golden State Warriors on their dwelling flooring lower than three weeks in the past in a recreation it did not have James for many of the second half.

The Lakers are determining simply how troublesome life with out James could be, similar to the Cavs knew so properly the final a number of years and proceed to be cognizant of this season as they tank in direction of the lottery.

However this is the most important distinction, maybe, in what these Cavs groups skilled and the place the Lakers at the moment are: James has the damage and tear of all these seasons pushing and prodding and carrying the Cavs underneath his belt.

When he returns, what if he cannot carry this Lakers group – in a harder Western Convention and comprised of potential stars alongside him reasonably than bonafide ones — the best way he used to?

You see, Magic Johnson did not need L.A. to be Cleveland over again as a result of the plan was to have James’ teammates carry him up simply as a lot as he lifts them up. To this point that is been something however the case.

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