James knocks out Bulls but Lakers still a long shot

CHICAGO • LeBron James strode onto the United Centre court on Tuesday night for the 39th time overall and his first since signing with the Los Angeles Lakers.

It is the most appearances for any visiting player, but James is not just any player. He passed Michael Jordan for fourth on the all-time scoring list last week and broke the hearts of Chicago Bulls fans in many other ways before then.

Whether James was smothering Derrick Rose in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals for the Miami Heat or sinking buzzer-beating game-winners over Jimmy Butler in the 2015 Conference semi-finals for the Cleveland Cavaliers, he has had his Chicago moments.

So it seemed fitting that, even during a desultory, injury-plagued first season in Hollywood, James had the opportunity to officially eliminate the Bulls from the play-offs.

He put on another show in the Lakers' 123-107 National Basketball Association victory, finishing with 36 points and 10 rebounds to ensure the Bulls will miss out on a second straight post-season for the first time since 2004.

James' team are also a long shot to make the play-offs - they are 61/2 games behind the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final spot in the West with 16 games left.

But, while coach Luke Walton feels that their raft of injuries have led to "where we are at as a group", he still wants his players to give their all until the regular season concludes, adding: "It's our job to continue to come out and give everything we can to get better, to win the games we do have left."

And Bulls coach Jim Boylen believes that even if James fails to drag a young, injury-plagued team to the post-season, the forward remains the game's best player and "one of the toughest guys in any sport".

One thing for certain is that James will be returning to Chicago with the Lakers next season, unlike Walton, who is widely rumoured to be on borrowed time.

The 38-year-old is remaining unperturbed by the "outside noise all year long", though, insisting: "Some will be about me. Some will be about players. Some will be about the front office.

"We're going to be a team throughout all that. That's what I preach so I've got to live by that."

DPA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2019, with the headline 'James knocks out Bulls but Lakers still a long shot'. Print Edition | Subscribe