Editor’s note: This is the Tuesday, May 23, 2023 edition of the “Game Day with Kevin Modesti” newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.
Good morning. LeBron James gave it all he had for one last game. Now, will he give it all he’s got for one last season?
There’s more to talk about in Southern California sports:
Again responding to criticism, the Dodgers apologized to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and re-invited the group to LGBTQ+ Pride Night at Dodger Stadium next month.
Redeeming themselves on the field too, the Dodgers got two homers by J.D. Martinez and one by Freddie Freeman to rally after Gavin Stone’s rocky start in Atlanta.
A change in Angels pitching plans worked out against the Red Sox, with Mickey Moniak continuing his hard hitting.
Tonight’s U.S. Open Cup game at BMO Stadium looks different to LAFC, which might have other priorities, and the Galaxy, which is desperate to turn its season around.
But LeBron made himself the story with what he did on the court and especially what he said after the Lakers’ 113-111 loss to the Nuggets last night at Crypto.com Arena, completing Denver’s 4-0 sweep of the Western Conference finals.
James put the Lakers in position to win, carrying them to a 15-point lead with 31 first-half points on his way to 40 for the game, but he couldn’t save them at the end, shots to tie going awry when a rushed jumper hit the side of the backboard and a last-second attempt was blocked.
He had enough energy left to set off speculation about his future with comments to reporters in a post-game press conference.
“Just for me, personally, going forward with the game of basketball, I’ve got a lot to think about,” James said.
Despite the disappointing end of the Lakers’ playoff run, LeBron’s 20th NBA season wouldn’t be a bad one for him to go out on.
He got to the top of the mountain individually, breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s career points record in February. At 38, he battled back from two injuries to, along with Anthony Davis and an ever-changing cast, bring the team back from a 2-10 start to within five wins of their second title in his five years in L.A. If last night was curtains for James and this iteration of the Lakers, it would be a fitting handoff to Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets, the NBA’s new best all-around player and the West’s new best team.
But not so fast.
James still is one of the league’s best players. He’s the man the Lakers want shooting with the game on the line. He and Davis are the indispensable pieces for a team that is a contender next season if the front office opts, as columnist Mirjam Swanson says it should, to “run it back” by re-signing Austin Reeves and Rui Hachimura and sticking with D’Angelo Russell.
And, no small point, James has a contract, the two-year, $97.1 million extension signed last August that covers the 2023-24 season and gives him until June 2024 to decide whether to pick up the option to play the ’24-25 season.
Even if James hadn’t put the topic on the front burner with his comments last night, his future would be the key to any talk about the Lakers’ future.
Columnist Jim Alexander writes in today’s SCNG papers that “it’s hard to imagine that LeBron won’t want to take one more shot at a personal fifth title with this group.”
That sounds right to me.
One more season is what to root for. One more shot at a title with the best roster GM Rob Pelinka can put together. One year for the Lakers to plan for what – and who – comes next.
Dodgers right-hander Bobby Miller makes his major-league debut against the Braves and Spencer Strider (4:20 p.m., SNLA, TBS).
Angels and Griffin Canning face the Red Sox and Brayan Bello, who’s 4-0, 2.57 ERA in the past month (6:38 p.m., BSW).
LAFC hosts the Galaxy in the U.S. Open Cup round of 16 (7:30 p.m., CBS Sports Golazo Network).
USC (No. 4 seed) faces UCLA (No. 7) to begin pool play in the Pac-12 baseball tournament, running through Saturday in Scottsdale, Ariz. (2:30 p.m., Pac12N).
BETWEEN THE LINES
As they square off this week in Atlanta, the Braves and Dodgers are the top two teams in betting on who’ll win the World Series, both listed at about +500 (or 5-1). The MLB-leading Tampa Bay Rays are third in the odds at +650.
“Now, Dodgers season starts.” – Sportswriter Fred Robledo (@SGVNSports) after the end of the Lakers’ playoff run, which spanned 38 of the Dodgers’ 49 games so far.
Endgame: LeBron James’ shot to tie the score is blocked by Aaron Gordon in the final seconds of the Lakers’ loss to the Nuggets last night, giving Denver a 4-0 sweep of the Western Conference finals. Photo is by David Crane of the Los Angeles Daily News and SCNG.
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