The NBA kicked off its new season on Tuesday night, with a back-to-back slate of games airing on TNT. There were two things happening during the matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers, and they were glaringly obvious. The first being the depth of the Clippers’ roster, which is exceptional and far exceeds that of the rival Lakers. And two, LeBron James is regressing with age and has been passed up by the Clippers’ newly-acquired wing Kawhi Leonard for the title of “clear-cut” best player in the world.
In the game played at Staples Center, the Clippers bested the Lakers by a score of 112-102. The effort was fueled by an “intense” Leonard who compiled an impressive stat-line of 30 points, six rebounds, five assists, two steals and one block. At one point, the two-time NBA Finals MVP entered a stretch where he made seven straight shots. Also, the Clippers’ bench debuted, and announced their presence with authority by scoring 60 points.
When asked about his performance, According to ESPN Kawhi said, “Just made shots pretty much. I felt like I got to my spots early, missed some little chippies but started making shots. That’s what happens.”
Clippers coach Doc Rivers offered his opinion on Leonard by saying, “He was intense,” and “You could feel the intensity. There’s no doubt about that.”
Kawhi’s performance was a spectacle-to-see on both ends of the floor. As a competitor, he manages to eliminate the distractions, shy away from the camera, and let his efforts speak for themselves. It’s a statement of fact that he is now unquestionably the greatest basketball player on planet Earth. However, unlike the outspoken James, he allows fans and media analysts to declare the conviction while instead providing statistical and visual evidence to help those individuals plead their case.
And then there’s the fading “King”…
LeBron James’ effort was consistent and showcased an improved focus on defense, which he has lacked the past few seasons. For the game, he flirted with a triple-double by scoring 18 points, to go along with nine rebounds and eight assists. To the untrained eye, it was a solid and well-rounded effort.
However, LeBron’s shortcomings in shooting efficiency and ball-protection, as well as his obvious deferral to forward Anthony Davis as the Lakers’ primary offensive option suggest that he may be exiting his prime. His shooting effort was substandard after struggling from the floor (36.8%), long range (20%), and the free-throw line (75%). Struggling against an energetic defender in Patrick Beverly, he also made five turnovers.
Compared to an energetic Leonard, it was obvious that LeBron just looked slow. He is guilty as charged.
During interviews with reporters after the game, as provided by video via ESPN, James admits that he was “a little rusty” after his long-layoff dating back to the final weeks of the regular season from the year prior. He also mentioned that it’s important to get Davis in the proper position to be effective, and that as “point-guard” of the team it’s important for him to get guys in place to be effective.
Pairing LeBron’s age with the fact he is returning from the first significant injury (groin) of his career, it’s not surprising that last night’s game was a showcase of generational talent unintentionally passing on the torch. That flame migrates from one aging player in the twilight of his career to another in his prime. Kawhi Leonard is a monster unfazed by the pressure of NBA stardom, and is loudly-cementing himself as the league’s primary figure for this generation, and he is doing it in the most soft-spoken way possible.