LOS ANGELES (AP) — LeBron James has repeatedly insisted he doesn’t care about winning another MVP award. He knows almost nobody outside the Los Angeles Lakers’ locker room thinks he’ll beat Giannis Antetokounmpo for the honour.
When the reigning MVP brought his Milwaukee Bucks to Staples Center on Friday night, James’ brilliant performance still demonstrated the debate shouldn’t be over just yet.
James had 37 points, eight rebounds and seven assists to win his showdown with his fellow All-Star Game captain, and the Lakers beat Milwaukee 113-103 in a clash of the NBA’s conference leaders.
Anthony Davis scored 14 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter as the Lakers (48-13) split their season series with the league-leading Bucks (53-10). Los Angeles was carried to its 10th win in 11 games overall by James, who scored 14 points in the third quarter and then kept LA ahead down the stretch.
James also frequently guarded Antetokounmpo during the middle quarters with consistent success. James capped his night with a one-handed spinning dunk with 27 seconds left, sparking the last of many “M-V-P!” chants for him at Staples Center.
“We know who we are, and this is great competition,” James said. “To have the opportunity to compete at a high level, that’s fun and exciting. But we know what we’re capable of.”
The victory even had a symbolic meaning for James and the Lakers: They formally clinched their first playoff spot since 2013, ending the longest drought in franchise history.
“I came here to put this franchise back where it needed to be,” James said. “The league is not what it is if the Lakers are not winning.”
James has transformed himself into the NBA’s assists leader this season to get the most out of Davis, but he did it without losing any of his own scoring acumen. The Lakers depend on his steady excellence on both ends, and he has rarely been better this season than he was against the Bucks.