LOS ANGELES – LeBron James's arrival in Los Angeles this season instantly put the Lakers in the NBA playoff conversation, but the superstar admits he's still figuring out how best to make his less experienced teammates better.
The 4-time NBA Most Valuable Player's attacking abilities were on full display as he carried the Lakers to a 104-96 victory the Indiana Pacers on Thursday, when he scored 12 of his 38 points in the final 5 minutes.
"Spectacular" was the verdict of Lakers coach Luke Walton, but James said he's thought long and hard this season about when to take over and when to cede control to his young teammates with an eye toward their development.
"That's the challenge of things I've been kind of battling with since the season started," James said. "How much do I defer and allow some of our young guys to kind of try to figure it out and how much do I try to take over games? I think (Thursday) was one of those instances where they looked at me and they wanted me to close the game. I just tried to make plays."
In addition to heaping praise on James, Walton noted the contribution of the entire team after a game in which Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope all scored in double figures.
Although the Lakers squandered an early 24-point lead — the Pacers taking a 69-66 lead in the third quarter — Walton said there were plenty of encouraging signs.
"It never goes to plan, but I like the progress we've made, where we're at as a team right now compared to where we were to start the season," he said.
"Our defense has really turned around for us, we've slowed down, we've played a little slower than I imagined or liked, but that's OK, because we're figuring out who we are and what works best for us and starting to win some games."
Thursday's win snapped a 2-game losing streak for the Lakers. During the mini-skid, ESPN reported that James had begun ignoring Walton's coaching and play calling during games — a claim that echoed reports that James ran the show when he was in Miami and Cleveland.
Lakers executive Magic Johnson called the report "wrong."
"We have a system the ball moves around, a lot of pick and roll plays," Johnson told Sirius XM NBA Radio.
"If you watch us play, the ball is not in LeBron James's hands all of the time. It can't be, because you want to pass it around, you want to get into your pick-and-roll plays."
"But, hey, we're the Lakers, people are going to be talking about us."
Walton said that any team with a player of James's caliber will rely on that player at times.
"There's times in the game where you're LeBron James or you're whoever the best player on the team, you're going to take over. He knows when those times are, and he's good at that. Now we have to continue to get good at, better at, those other times where we're just playing basketball."
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