LOS ANGELES -- The night before LeBron James scored a season-high 37 points -- including the go-ahead free throw with 1.9 seconds left -- while logging 40 minutes to lead theLakersover the Houston Rockets105-104 on Sunday, he had something to get off his chest.
It was a rare evening off for the 38-year-old player, with his team in the middle of a stretch of six games in nine days, and he took a break from playing Madden NFL 24 to make a post to his Instagram story.
He shared a graphic showing how his 35 points against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday was the 108th time he topped the 30-point plateau since signing with Los Angeles as a free agent in 2018.
"But I just came here to make movies though!" James wrote, referring to derision he received when he made the move out ofCleveland. "Ain't that what ya'll said right!?!?"
Why did he choose that moment to clap back at critics?
"Because sometimes you need to remind folks," James said Sunday after the win over the Rockets.
He reminded his teammates he can still get up in the air, finishing a drive with a thunderous dunk midway through the fourth that put L.A. up by seven and caused Houston to call timeout.
"They've been joking about me, saying that I lay the ball up too much when I got an open lane," James said with a satisfied smile. "So I'm trying to change that narrative, too."
He reminded the armchair coaches who questioned why he would pass to an open Cam Reddish with the game on the line earlier in the season that he'll continue to find the open man in crunch time, as he did by setting up Austin Reaves for a go-ahead 3-pointer with 24.2 seconds left to put L.A. up 103-100.
He reminded the Rockets' Dillon Brooks, who hasbecome a willing agitator of his in recent seasons, to rattle the cage at his own risk, as James scored 13 of his points in the fourth quarter on 5-of-6 shooting.
"That's competition," James said of Brooks, who, in the third quarter, caused a technical foul to be called on James by crowding his space and prompting an elbow and, in the fourth, promptedJames to make a "too small" gesture after scoring on him in the paint. "Those young guys, they get me going. So, I need that."
And James is reminding himself of why he continues to want to play in the NBA, with his financial future and career accomplishments already secured.
"Just trying to push the limit," he said. "See how far I can take this thing. I don't know. I mean, it's me vs. Father Time."
James is now up to 109 games with 30 or more points as a Laker, and he passed Lakers legendKobe Bryanton another historical list while doing so. James is up to 237 career games with 35 points or more, eclipsing Bryant's 236, to move into third all time, behind only Wilt Chamberlain (381) and Michael Jordan (333).
James did it while shooting 14-of-19 from the field (73.7%), as he continued what would be the most efficient season he has ever played if he keeps it up. James is now shooting 58.6% overall for the season through 13 games, which is better than his best career year with the Miami Heat in 2013-14, when he shot 56.7%. His 39.7% from 3 isn't far off the career-best 40.6% he connected on with Miami in 2012-13, either.
"I have been able to be on the court a lot more during off days this year because of past injuries the last couple years with my foot or whatever the case may be," James told ESPN. "So to be able to hone in on everything that I need to do instead of having to get off my foot, unless we're playing games has allowed me to stay in rhythm.
"I got my bounce back, my spring back, my quick twitch back and things of that nature."
He's got his spirit back, too, it would appear. After finishing his 20th season by being swept out of the playoffs by the Denver Nuggets and openly contemplating retirement, and following that with a summer in which his eldest son,Bronny James, suffered cardiac arrest, his joy for the game has been unmistakable this season.
"The one special thing about Bron is," Reaves said, "I've never really seen him in a bad mood. He's always got energy. He's the oldest player in the NBA but still acts like he's 20 every day."
"I looked over at one point and saw Bronny sitting courtside, too, and I was like, 'OK, I got to turn it up a little bit even more,'" James said.
Turning it up and turning back time.
"He was outstanding," Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. "The LeBron we've all come to know and love over these 21 years."