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LeBron James’ simple message for playoffs: ‘Go out and hoop’

LeBron James should be excited to be back in the playoffs, the misery of watching from home a year ago erased by the buzz surrounding the Lakers’ first-round series with the Memphis Grizzlies.

After a one-year absence from the playoffs, James might be energized by a return to the postseason. Maybe he’ll channel all of that on the court Sunday in Game 1 at Memphis.

Yet Saturday, when James walked off the practice court, he seemed nothing but serious, his focus ramping up as the Lakers are about to play their biggest games of the season.

“It’s definitely an honor to be a part of the postseason,” James said flatly. “You can never take that for granted. So we’re excited to be a part of this one.”

While no one will know for sure until Sunday, James seemed to have a different level of focus Saturday after practice in Memphis as he answered questions directly and without emotion.

Is the West wide open?

“I think it’s 16 teams in the postseason and there’s opportunity for all 16,” James said.

What did he miss last year when he sat out the playoffs?

“I’d rather play in them than watch them,” he said.

Does it ever get old being in the playoffs?

“No. Never.”

Once the ball gets tipped Sunday, there will be little use in looking back at the games that proceeded the playoffs. That everyone agreed on, but the way the Lakers played following the All-Star break has them operating with a quiet confidence.

With an empty injury report — James, Anthony Davis and Dennis Schroder are all listed as probable — the Lakers know they’ve won nine of the last 11 games in which James and Davis both have been healthy.

“I just knew having a healthy LeBron and a healthy AD at the right time, the sky’s the limit. And those segments of the season when they weren’t available, we just had to kinda just continue to swim and throw our arms and kick our feet to stay above water and maintain,” coach Darvin Ham said last Sunday after the final regular-season game.

“We were able to improve our roster at the deadline, and also those guys coming back healthy, and now having everybody entirely healthy, the sky’s the limit. I understood the process. Being around it so long, it’s a marathon. It’s not a sprint.”

The challenges playing against the second-seeded Grizzlies are all obvious.

“When you get in the playoffs, it’s zero-zero. I think seeding doesn’t matter,” Davis said. “Once you get in, it’s all about matchups and things like that. We don’t look at ourselves as underdogs, obviously. Knowing that this team we’re facing is a really, really good team. They’re second for a reason. And that’s with and without Ja [Morant]. We’ve got to come in locked in and prepared.”

The Lakers will need to keep Morant from easy paths to, and above, the rim. They’ll have to attack Jaren Jackson Jr. and keep him from dominating defensively. They’ll need to minimize the impact Memphis’ supporting cast — Dillon Brooks, Desmond Bane, Xavier Tillman and Tyus Jones — has on games while cutting back on turnovers and fastbreaks by their opponents.

“They got a lot of weapons. That’s why they’re ranked where they are in the West and they’re the type of team that they are,” Ham said. “They’re very well-coached. They have a lot of dangerous pieces. And we just have to be active and alert.

“We can’t get caught in a situation where we’re overthinking everything. We have to read and react. We have our coverages set. We definitely have adjustments. But at the end of the day, if you go out with energy, effort and urgency, and you’re ready to compete, usually that figures itself out.”

While the Lakers have had time to dissect the Grizzlies since they earned their way into the playoffs Tuesday in the opening play-in game, the final message delivered by James was one of simplicity.

“Just go out and have fun. Go out and hoop,” James said he told his team. “Don’t change much from what we’ve done. Those guys have been playing exceptional basketball so don’t put too much added pressure on yourself.

“At the end of the day, it’s still just basketball.”

This story originally appeared on LA Times

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