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LeBron: ‘Got to be smart’ with health over seeding

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LeBron: ‘Got to be smart’ with health over seeding

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MEMPHIS — LeBron James says he will prioritize his health over the chase for the Los Angeles Lakers‘ playoff seeding down the stretch of the regular season.

“I got to be smart with it,” James said after the Lakers’ 136-124 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday. “If I’m not healthy, or [anywhere] close to being healthy, then it’s not good for our ballclub anyway. It’s not good for me.”

James returned from a one-game absence because of his sore left ankle — something that has been an issue for the 21-year veteran for months — to log his fourth triple-double of the season with 23 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists against the Grizzlies.

L.A. extended its winning streak to a season-best five games and is currently No. 9 in the Western Conference standings with nine games remaining in the regular season.

However, James said the fact that he rested his ankle the night before in the Lakers’ 128-124 double-overtime win against the Milwaukee Bucks was evidence that he won’t risk short-term gains that could affect his long-term availability.

“I mean, I would’ve probably tried to play yesterday [in Milwaukee] if that was the case,” James, 39, said.

James has missed 10 games this season and L.A. has gone 6-4 in his absence, the first time a James team has posted a record above .500 record without him since the Miami Heat in 2012-13. However, the four-time MVP, who has played 282 playoff games in his career without ever missing one, doesn’t want to put his team in that position when the games matter most.

“Just be very strategic,” James said of his decisions on when to play and when to rest. “Obviously, understanding and seeing how my ankle and my foot is feeling. But just being very smart about it, obviously. We are where we are, but our health has always been the most important for our ballclub. Not just one individual. But for me looking out for myself when it comes to injury and knowing my foot and knowing my ankle and how it reacts, and how it’s been over the last couple of years, it’s just always keeping a hefty eye on it.”

Anthony Davis, coming off of 52 minutes against the Bucks, took the same approach with his hyperextended left knee Wednesday, choosing to sit out.

Lakers coach Darvin Ham said the team would see how Davis’ knee feels Thursday before determining his availability for Friday’s game against the Indiana Pacers.

With Davis out, Rui Hachimura went off for 32 points and 10 rebounds against Memphis — including hitting a career-best seven 3-pointers.

Hachimura said it brought to mind his offensive breakout performance in the first round of the playoffs against Memphis last spring.

“When I came here today, this morning, I got all the flashbacks from last year,” Hachimura said. “Playoff time. … We have good memories here, had a pretty good games in here. I think I was happy to be able to come back here — it’s been almost a year.”

Which is exactly his team’s hope as the final few weeks of the regular season come to a close: playing their best when it really counts.

“I don’t think any team in the league really wants to see us besides a couple,” Lakers forward Taurean Prince said. “We know our capabilities. I think everybody else does, too. It’s just about us coming being consistent.”

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