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LeBron James on Lakers reaching NBA Finals: ‘The job is not done’
SportsPulse: The Los Angeles Lakers are headed back to the NBA Finals after knocking off the Nuggets in Game 5, but LeBron James is not ready to celebrate anything yet.
The moment has prompted the Los Angeles Lakers to remember more joyful times. The moment has made Lakers guard Rajon Rondo try to forget about it.
With the Lakers facing the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday, those in the organization remember nostalgically how the team’s last Finals appearance happened 10 years ago and ended in a seven-game series triumph over the Boston Celtics.
But don’t bring that up to Rondo, who was once a player the Lakers loathed for wearing a green uniform.
“I blurred a lot of it out,” Rondo said. “It was ugly.”
First, the Celtics suffered a 89-67 Game 6 loss in what marked their lowest point total ever in a Finals game. And in Game 7, the Celtics squandered a 13-point lead.
“It was a collective team effort. But that’s a long, long time ago,” Rajon said. “I look forward to obviously changing the chapter and continuing to go past this different chapter in my life and write a better story ending.”
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Rondo’s chapter reads much differently than earlier in his career.
Then with the Celtics, Rondo was the brash young point guard sought to add value and smarts to a headstrong roster that included Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Amid short-lived stints in Dallas (2014-15), Sacramento (2015-16), Chicago (2016-17) and New Orleans (2017-18), Rondo has played for the Lakers the past two seasons as a willing mentor. After missing all of the Lakers’ seed-in games and the first round of the playoffs to rehab his surgically repaired right thumb, Rondo has offered intangibles along with consistent bench production in points (9.1), assists (7.2) and steals (1.2).
“He’s going to be Rondo,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “He really impacts the game on both sides of the ball, both with his ability to orchestrate the offense, put guys in positions to score and then deliver the ball. But also, he just makes winning plays. Defensively he’s got great lateral speed and athleticism. Defensively? Obviously, he’s been an all-defensive player throughout his career, and he’ll do whatever is necessary to get the job done on that end of the floor, as well.”
That explains why the Lakers and his past NBA teams have often referred to him as “Playoff Rondo.” And despite averaging just 7.1 points on 41.8 percent shooting in the regular season, Vogel still played Rondo about 20.5 minutes per night and strongly argued his value was not fully reflected in a box score.
Rondo admitted that he “didn’t know what to expect coming back” following the season hiatus as well as his subsequent thumb injury and back spasms. Still, he noted that Vogel “instilled a lot of confidence in me coming back, saying that I play a very important role on this team.” Rondo sounded just as grateful for Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka supporting him privately as well.
“Those guys from the top believed in me from day one, and I just didn’t want to let my teammates down,” Rondo said. “I didn’t want to let myself down. I’m a very competitive person, and feeling like I do have an impact on this team, helping this team win.”
And the Lakers look to “Playoff Rondo” for more than just his numbers on the court.
Anthony Davis said that Rondo is among his teammates along with LeBron James and Dwight Howard to talk in a group about their previous Finals appearances. Rondo has participated in the Lakers’ efforts to play Madden football during down time. Rondo, who grew up in Louisville, has also spoken passionately about Breonna Taylor, an unarmed Black woman whose death at the hands of Louisville police has sparked nationwide social justice protests. He has spoken frequently with Yvette Gentry, who oversees his foundation and is the interim chief of the city’s police department.
So even if Rondo admitted feeling conflicted initially about resuming the season amid protests to eradicate systemic racism, he has since changed his thoughts.
“We pretty much all have the same common goals,” Rondo said. “We’re here for one reason.”
And that’s to win an NBA championship, which will help the Lakers relive their past championship glory and help Rondo forget about that same past.