LOS ANGELES — Wearing a jet-black Deion Sanders Atlanta Falcons jersey after a 112-103 win over the LA Clippers on Sunday, Los Angeles Lakers center JaVale McGee made a declaration that would have made the boastful “Prime Time” proud.
“It was very important,” McGee said when asked to put the Lakers’ win over their Staples Center cohabitants into perspective. “Just to quiet the doubters.
“The Lake Show [is] the best team in the world right now.”
After the weekend the Lakers had, it’s hard to argue with him.
They beat the Milwaukee Bucks, owners of the best record in the league and featuring the reigning MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, on Friday. Then they dispatched the Clippers, owners of the fourth-best record in the league and featuring the reigning Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard, two days later.
The last time the Lakers defeated two of the top four teams in the NBA in consecutive games was February 2009, when they took down the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. They won the title that season.
“There’s a lot of factors that go into these games that really don’t matter come playoff time, whether you win or lose,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “But to measure some habits we’re trying to build, it’s very encouraging to see our guys perform at this level against two of the best teams in the league.”
After LeBron James pumped in 28 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks, he had his teammates, again, making the case for him as the best player in the league.
“They need to watch the last two games,” Anthony Davis, who had 30 points and eight boards, said when asked what he would say to anyone who doesn’t plan to vote for James for MVP. “I mean, what he’s been able to do — taking on matchups defensively, leading the pack offensively, making the right plays. You don’t see that from a guy who is 17 years in the league and his team is No. 1 in the West.
“He’s continuing to show the world why he’s the best, and if people don’t understand that, then the last two games, I think they understand now.”
play0:42AD: LeBron is the MVP after victories over Bucks, Clippers
Anthony Davis argues that the way LeBron James played against the Bucks and the Clippers makes him the MVP of the season.
Rajon Rondo said James’ defensive effort against the likes of Antetokounmpo and Leonard is what has really elevated his MVP standing.
“He sets the tone, especially when he takes the challenge against supposed MVP candidates. He’s making his mark,” Rondo said.
James was asked if he is still improving at 35 years old, as Clippers coach Doc Rivers suggested before the game.
“I prepare myself both in my body and my mind to endure anything,” James said. “Even at this stage of my career. I know what it takes for me to be prepared mentally and physically to go out and perform at a high level. And it’s my responsibility to put this team in a position to be successful. They look at me as a leader. And it’s my job, not only on the floor to get guys opportunities, get them great looks, but to inspire them as well. To show them that I’m not slowing down, even at this stage of my career. So it’s just a blessing. It’s a blessing to be able to do what I’m doing at this juncture of my career.”
A Lakers-Clippers playoff series — which has never happened — would seem like a blessing from the basketball gods, should it occur this spring, considering how competitive the first three meetings were. The Clippers took the first two before the Lakers tallied a W on Sunday.
“The best type of games are when you come out of there with bloody lips and scratches and guys taking charges and guys chirping,” Davis said. “Those are the type of games that you live for, the fun games in basketball that every player in this locker room wants. It was a fun game today.”
One streak continued for the Lakers: They’re 42-0 this season when taking a lead into the fourth quarter. One streak ended for the Clippers: It was the first time all season that they lost when their entire roster was healthy.
“Wasn’t there, like, a stat they’re 10-0 full-strength, something like that?” asked McGee, correctly citing the number. “Welp. It’s one loss now.”
As bold as McGee might have been, Avery Bradley — Sunday’s surprise star, with a season-high 24 points — reminded folks that the Lakers (49-13), with 20 games left before the postseason, still have a long way to go to reach their ultimate goal.
“They’re really big games for us, but it’s still the regular season,” Bradley said. “We’re moving on to the next opponent.”