LeBron James will appear in his 25th career win-or-go home playoff game Thursday.
The defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers find themselves down 3-2 to the Phoenix Suns in the first round after a shocking 115-85 loss in Game 5. The Lakers were without star big man Anthony Davis, who is listed as day-to-day due to a groin strain he suffered in Game 4. He remains questionable for Game 6.
Davis’ injury has already shifted title chances away from the Lakers, who were the favorites to come out of the West and only behind the Brooklyn Nets in title odds according to DraftKings Sportsbook.
Whether or not he has Davis alongside him, James is the pinnacle of greatness in elimination games. He’s played in 24 of them, going 14-10 for his career. Here’s how James performs on the floor in playoff elimination games.
Update: LeBron had 29 points 9 rebounds and 7 assists in the Lakers 113-100 loss to the Suns in Game 6 on Thursday night. It was LeBron’s first loss in the first round of the playoffs in his NBA career.
LeBron James in elimination games: 33.7 points, 7.5 assists, 10.8 rebounds, 49.1 FG%, 34.2 3P%
Those aren’t shabby numbers by any means. James is not only averaging north of 30 points on strong efficiency; he’s putting on complete games with assists and rebounds. However, those numbers don’t tell the whole story. A deeper look into James’ playoff career should give Lakers fans even more hope for a special performance in Game 6 from the King.
James’ history of elimination games can be broken down into two categories. The first would be every elimination game he has played through the 2011 Finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks. This would include his battles with the Detroit Pistons and the 2007 Finals loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Here’s how James performed in the eight elimination games he played through the 2011 Finals, going 2-6.
LeBron James in elimination games through 2010-11 season: 29.8 points, 7.4 assists, 9.4 rebounds, 43.8 FG%, 25.5 3P%
The production is still incredible, but the efficiency isn’t what we know of James today. His raw numbers remain great, largely as a result of having to drag Cleveland Cavaliers teams without a second star. His first season with the Miami Heat was not up to his standards as he adjusted to life with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, often taking a backseat to Wade offensively. That all changed after the Mavericks upset the Heat to win the title.
In the 16 elimination games since that loss, James has been nearly unstoppable. This run includes one of his greatest games ever, a 45-point barrage against the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. It includes his comebacks in the Finals against the Spurs and Golden State Warriors and his runs through the East during a second stint with the Cavaliers. James has gone 12-4 in win-or-go home contests since losing to Dallas.
LeBron James in elimination games after 2010-11: 35.6 points, 7.6 assists, 11.5 rebounds, 51.7 FG%, 38.5 3P%
This is closer to the James we know today; a dominant offensive force with improved efficiency from behind the arc. Many are quick to point to the 2011 Finals as a black mark on James’ resume, but it actually might’ve inspired him to reach another gear. Since that series, James has only been sent home by the Spurs and Warriors. Neither of those teams are in play at the moment. The Suns possess many of the qualities of those teams, but not the same talent level.
Of course, climbing out of a 3-2 hole doesn’t fall entirely on James. The Lakers have shot 30.2 percent from deep, but even that number is inflated by a 37.9 percent shooting clip in Game 3. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is shooting a laughable 7.7 percent from three. Wesley Matthews, a career 37.9 percent shooter, is connecting on 26.3 percent of his attempts. Marc Gasol has steadied things with a 75 percent hit rate, but he’s only seeing the floor due to Davis’ absence. If the Lakers want to climb out of this whole, they’ll need the outside shooters to start connecting more often. We know James will provide them with plenty of opportunities.
As for bettors looking at Game 6, James’ player prop for points is set 30.5 and his line for points, assists and rebounds combined is 48.5. If you believe in trends and historical data, the overs look like strong plays for both bets. You can also look at player parlays involving James, notably him notching a double-double in a Lakers win.
Regardless of Davis’ status, expect James to deliver another signature performance in Game 6 against the Suns. In elimination game No. 17 since the 2011 Finals defeat, he remains the ultimate performer under pressure.
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