'I don't get tired': LeBron still fit for the fight despite Pistons' setback

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
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Detroit — Every year, the pundits try to figure out whether this is the year that LeBron James falls off. Every year, they’re wrong — or at least more wrong than right.

LeBron at 36 looks pretty much the same as he did at 31 or even 26. It’s been a career of excellence, marked with all the accolades that a superstar basketball player can achieve. Somehow, he’s been able to pull it off without the erosion in skills and production that most players go through in their thirties.

Not LeBron.

He’s in that first-name club of sports icons with Kareem, Wilt, Oscar, Michael and Kobe. Like few others, LeBron managed to maintain his athleticism through a meticulous workout regimen and caring for his body.

Even by his standards, the first half he had against the Pistons on Thursday night’s loss was quite noticeable, with 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including 4-of-5 on 3-pointers. It wasn’t so much that the numbers were odd; it’s more that they came on the second night of a back-to-back, after the Lakers had lost to the Philadelphia 76ers.

If anyone thought LeBron was tired, he shot down those notions.

“I don’t get tired. I don’t feel tired. I get my sleep; I get my rest,” James said. “I have a lot of energy. I don’t get tired and my mindset never gets to the point where it’s like this is a long road trip or I’m exhausted or I’m tired.

“I don’t even think about that. When we have our games, I’m ready to go and when we’re not playing, I have an opportunity to rest and get my body back right and my mind refreshed.”

The Lakers are on a seven-game road trip, and after winning the first three games, they’ve stumbled a little, ahead of the final two games at Boston and Atlanta. As the defending champions, they’re the nightly target around the league.

LeBron, though, is still fit for the fight.

LeBron James shows his teammates the exit after losing to the Pistons.

He’s still a physical marvel and he showed the whole arsenal Thursday, with drives to the basket, rebounding, passing and defense. None of that looks to be going away anytime soon.

“He’s unbelievable. How is LeBron staying in such great shape? This guy is moving like a 21-year-old, constantly running the floor, back-cutting, going for lobs and dunks and shooting the deep 3,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “His level of conditioning and the way he’s taking care of his body is second to none. My hat is off to him. Going against Jordan, Kobe and LeBron, LeBron is right there with them at the top as far as all those things are concerned: conditioning, student of the game, basketball intellect — the whole gamut.”

As always, LeBron is going to be in the MVP discussion, as his production hasn’t dipped: 25.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 7.5 assists and shooting 42% on 3-pointers. That the Lakers (14-6) remain at the top of their game after being the last team standing in the NBA Bubble last season is more a testament that any team he’s on — no matter what the level of talent or conditions they’re playing in — is an automatic contender.

Even without fellow All-Star Anthony Davis on Thursday, the Lakers were able to stay close to the energized Pistons for most of the game.

“We’re definitely all adjusting to playing with different lineups and logging minutes with lineups that one game you might not log with or a couple of games in a row,” James explained. “We’re all learning on the fly because of the lack of practice time. With this season, it’s very difficult to get those practice minutes on the floor and know what works and does not work.

“It’s very strange with that. A lot of our games are also just like big practices for us.”

Through it all, LeBron is the constant. At the end of this season, the Lakers likely will be there again, with LeBron at the helm, aiming for his fifth NBA title.

He has his detractors, but at the heart of it, LeBron always will be an attraction, for fans, fellow players and coaches alike.

“If you look in a dictionary and see a picture of a picture of a perfect basketball player, that guy is there,” Casey said. “You hate playing against him, but as a basketball fan and not coaching against him, you enjoy watching him play, because you see the nuances.”

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

Pistons at Warriors

Tip-off: 10 Saturday, Chase Center, San Francisco

TV/radio: FSD-Plus/950

Outlook: The Pistons are coming off their best win of the season, topping the defending-champion Lakers. They start a western road trip with five games in eight nights against the Warriors (10-9) and finish against the Lakers next Saturday.

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