EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — LeBron James has seemed wise beyond his years since the start of his basketball journey, and he wasn’t about to drop down to Dillon Brooks’ level of discourse heading into a pivotal game for the Los Angeles Lakers.
James declined to respond to the Memphis Grizzlies’ top agitator Friday after Brooks said the top scorer in NBA history was “old” following Game 2 of the teams’ first-round playoff series, which resumes Saturday night in Los Angeles.
The 38-year-old James patiently parried several questions about Brooks’ comments and about the importance of trash talk in general before abruptly cutting short his media session at the Lakers’ training complex. James never said Brooks’ name, but he clearly knew who’s behind the narrative trying to push its way into a competitive series after two eventful games in Memphis.
“I’m ready to play,” James said. “That’s it.”
The seventh-seeded Lakers’ visit from the Grizzlies is the second game of a Saturday doubleheader at the downtown Los Angeles arena long known as Staples Center. The short-handed Clippers tip off against the Suns in Game 4 about 6 1/2 hours earlier, with Phoenix looking to claim a daunting 3-1 series lead with a second straight road win.
Also Saturday in Eastern Conference play, the Philadelphia 76ers will look to sweep the Brooklyn Nets in Game 4 before the Heat host the top-seeded Bucks in Game 3 with their series even at 1-1 after Miami swiped the opener in Milwaukee.
James has won four NBA titles and four league MVP awards on top of practically every other achievement possible in the modern game during his 20 seasons. The 27-year-old Brooks, who is older than the median and average ages of current NBA players, has won one playoff series in his six-year career.
So a resume competition would be a blowout victory for James, but he wasn’t about to play any such games with Brooks, who described his overall philosophy after Game 2 as: “I poke bears.”
“At the end of the day, there’s 10 guys on the floor,” James said. “They’re one of the best defensive teams in the league, and we have to respect that. No matter who is out in a Grizzlies uniform during that particular time, during that quarter, during that minute, we’ve got to respect everybody and we’ve got to execute offensively.”
James will go back to work against Brooks and the Grizzlies on a landmark night in Lakers history: For the first time in 10 years, and for the first time with James and Anthony Davis on the roster, this 17-time NBA champion franchise will hold a playoff game in front of a capacity home crowd.
The Lakers missed the playoffs in six consecutive seasons after losing in the first round to San Antonio in 2013, and their 2020 championship run occurred in the Florida bubble. They hosted three playoff games in a first-round loss to the Phoenix Suns in 2021, but attendance was capped at less than half-capacity due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“I’m looking forward to it,” James said.
Ja Morant’s availability for Game 3 is still unclear after he missed Game 2 with a sore right hand, but the Grizzlies star appears to be improving quickly. He went through a noncontact practice and individual drills Friday in Los Angeles, but coach Taylor Jenkins said they’ll wait until game time to decide whether he’ll play.
76ERS AT NETS
76ers lead 3-0. Game 4, 1 p.m. EDT, TNT
— NEED TO KNOW: Philadelphia star Joel Embiid will sit out because of a sprained right knee. The 76ers added the All-Star center to the injury report Friday night, a night after he was limping multiple times during their Game 3 victory. Philadelphia can earn some valuable rest before the second round by finishing off the Nets.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: The Sixers have dominated even with relatively pedestrian contributions from two-time scoring champion and MVP candidate Embiid, who had only 14 points in Game 3.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Brooklyn, obviously. A tumultuous Nets season will end in ignominious fashion if they can’t take at least one game off the powerhouse Sixers.
SUNS AT CLIPPERS
Suns lead 2-1. Game 4, 3:30 p.m. EDT, TNT
— NEED TO KNOW: The Clippers announced late Friday that Kawhi Leonard will miss his second straight game with a right knee sprain. Los Angeles coach Tyronn Lue made two game plans depending on whether the quiet superstar could play, but the Clips will have to attempt to win again without their two best players.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Devin Booker. He is averaging 36.3 points per game in the series, and the Suns star invariably plays with an extra spring in his step in the building once called home by his hero, Kobe Bryant.
— INJURY WATCH: “If (Leonard) is not back, we have to rally around each other, support each other, find ways to make something happen.” Russell Westbrook, who had 30 points in the Clippers’ loss in Game 3. ... Phoenix’s Cam Payne is questionable with low back soreness.
— PRESSURE IS ON: The Clippers’ supporting cast, which will attempt to conjure an upset with Leonard back on the shelf. Leonard missed all of last season and played in just 52 games this season to stay in top shape for the playoffs. Clippers fans are growing increasingly discontented as they wait for Leonard and Paul George to deliver four years into their partnership.
BUCKS AT HEAT
Series tied 1-1. Game 3, 7:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN
— NEED TO KNOW: The Heat are only 12-11 in their last 23 home playoff games, excluding the “home” games from the bubble in 2020. Among those 11 losses: defeats by 17 and 29 points to the Bucks in 2021. The Heat were 27-14 at home this season, plus 1-1 in the play-in tournament, while Milwaukee was an NBA-best 26-15 on the road.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: The 3-point line. Milwaukee made 25 3s in Game 2, and that was without Giannis Antetokounmpo around the basket for the Heat to worry about. There’s no way the Bucks are losing when they’re making that many 3s.
— INJURY WATCH: All eyes on Antetokounmpo, whose back contusion knocked him out of Game 1 early and kept him out of Game 2 entirely. Miami obviously won’t have Tyler Herro, who will be recovering from surgery to repair the right hand that he broke in Game 1.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Miami. Milwaukee routed the Heat in Game 2 without their best player even in uniform. Miami has to respond.