After becoming the oldest player in league history to record a 30-point triple-double in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 106-94 win over the Orlando Magic on Sunday, LeBron James said the key to his eye-popping performance was an abundance of shut-eye.
Following a whirlwind three days in which James played a road back-to-back in Memphis and Oklahoma City then flew to Phoenix on Saturday to see his son Bronny lead his high school team to a win, James made sure to recharge with 12 hours of sleep ahead of the Magic game.
“I slept last night from 12 [a.m.] to 8 [a.m.], I got up, ate breakfast and went back to sleep from 8:30 [a.m.] to 12:30 [p.m.],” James said after pacing the Lakers with 30 points on 12-for-20 shooting, 11 rebounds, 10 assists and three blocks in 37 minutes against Orlando.
At 36 years, 346 days old, James supplanted Lakers great Kobe Bryant as the oldest player ever to drop a 30-point triple-double, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. Bryant was 36 years, 99 days old when he had 31 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists in a win over the Toronto Raptors in November 2014 during his second-to-last season in the NBA.
The Lakers have won three of their past four games to improve to 15-13, with James topping 30 points in all of those victories.
James was asked how sustainable his recent burst can be.
“Who me? How do I continue how I’m playing? Been doing it for 19 years,” he said. “Just do what I’ve been doing. I feel like I’m getting better and better each and every day. I’m getting healthier and healthier.”
James, who missed 10 of the Lakers’ first 16 games because of ankle and abdomen injuries, has improved his play as the season has gone on. In James’ first eight games, he averaged 22.8 points on 49% shooting with 5.0 rebounds and 6.1 assists. In his past eight, including the Orlando win, he has averaged 29.8 points on 52% shooting, 7.3 rebounds and 8.0 assists.
After a win over the Boston Celtics last weekend, James dismissed any talk about his workload being too much to handle at this stage of his career. His 36.8 minutes per game average is the most he has played since joining the Lakers in 2018 and a significant uptick from his 33.4 minutes per game last season.
“That’s just my mindset. Don’t get involved in how many minutes I played, how many days off,” James said. “I don’t confine to that. I think you think negative thoughts or negative energy, it just creeps into your mind. So, I’m as young as I’ve ever been.”
James was at his peak in the third quarter on Sunday, scoring 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting and adding three assists and two blocked shots, flying all over the court and sending the crowd into a frenzy. James’ play rubbed off on his teammates, as the Lakers dominated the third quarter, outscoring Orlando 36-10 and holding the Magic to 2-for-23 shooting (8.7%). It was the best defensive quarter for a Lakers team since Dec. 14, 1999, when the LA Clippers shot 1-for-18 (5.6%) in the second quarter.
“When he’s just being aggressive, he’s aggressive in making the right plays and reads, our team’s different,” Russell Westbrook said of James. “Tonight was another night where he imposed his will.”
Talen Horton-Tucker, who turned 21 last month, was asked what it’s like playing alongside someone who is nearly 16 years his senior.
“It gives me energy because you see him doing it at 36,” said Horton-Tucker, who added two of his six steals in that dominant third quarter. “It gives me no excuse to kind of do the same thing back.”
James said that being around Bronny’s Sierra Canyon High School team also has made him feel young again, along with his rest.
“Sleep,” James said when asked about the key to his energy. “Sleep and inspiration from my son and his team.”
Lakers coach Frank Vogel said he has adjusted the team’s schedule in recent seasons to accommodate more time for his players to rest on game days.
“As a group, over the last couple years, have gone almost entirely away from morning shootarounds,” Vogel said. “I personally have found that when we give them the morning off, we typically have more juice.”
Vogel sounded intent on squeezing every last bit of effort that James has left in his surefire Hall of Fame career, without fear of emptying his star’s tank before the playoffs.
“Nothing feels like it’s limited resources with him,” Vogel said. “Just the way he plays, that’s the way we have to be. That’s Lakers basketball. It doesn’t matter who our opponent is, what their record is, what the situation is. We want to play harder than our opponent.
“That’s who we’ve been the last couple years. It hasn’t always been there for us this year. And I think our guys recognize that. They’re trying to play at that championship level. Trying to build those championship habits in regular-season games. He’s setting a great tone for us in that regard.”
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