LOS ANGELES — LeBron James went from doubtful to questionable to a game-time decision to putting up a triple-double on the Knicks all in a span of hours Saturday.
James, who had 29 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in the Lakers’ 122-115 overtime victory, hadn’t faced the Knicks since the 2019-20 season. He missed both games during the pandemic 2020-21 season and was suspended for the first meeting this season, in November, because of his scrap with the Pistons’ Isaiah Stewart.
“I didn’t feel great in my pregame warmups,’’ James said afterward. “But I gave it a shot and see what happens.’’
When asked by The Post if James was itching to face the Knicks, Lakers coach Frank Vogel said, “Very much,” then added: “Itching to play isn’t a strong enough word. Just to get back in general, but obviously it’s a big game against the Knicks on ABC [network]. He wants to be there.’’
Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau had his team prepared for either scenario — James out or in — with two defensive game plans that were night and day.
“Look at his numbers, to play at the level he’s played at for as long as he has, that’s really the true mark of greatness,’’ Thibodeau said at Crypto.com Arena (the former Staples Center) before the Knicks’ dramatic loss. “A player can have a great season. To do it over a long period of time, he’s done that. It’s pretty remarkable and a testament to his well and things he’s done to take care of itself.’’
Yes, the Knicks know full well about a player having one great season, then falling back.
Julius Randle’s season has been surprising as the Lakers’ losing record (26-28), which has them far, far away from winning their 18th NBA championship.
The new purple-and-gold Big 3 of James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook hasn’t been healthy enough. And Westbrook, who grew up in the Los Angeles area, has been mostly disappointing in his efficiency numbers.
James had missed the previous five games with knee swelling, and the Lakers were in ninth place in the Western Conference.
After their loss to the Clippers on Thursday, Davis expressed frustration.
“I’ve had seasons where I’ve lost a lot when in New Orleans and it weighed on me,’’ Davis said. “Then I came here and got spoiled winning [a championship] my first year. Second year, we got other playoffs and I feel like we could’ve still been successful if I didn’t have the injury. This year, everyone counted us out. Said we were old. The whole locker room, we have guys with chips on their shoulders. But for me, I just want to win. I don’t want to go back to having losing seasons.”
Former Knick Carmelo Anthony, who has resuscitated his career with the Lakers this season, averaging 13.4 points, missed the game Saturday with a strained hamstring he suffered Thursday.
Thibodeau didn’t react well when a reporter pointed out the Knicks are last in the NBA in pace.
“I don’t know what you’re referencing or the point you’re trying to make,’’ Thibodeau said. “If you look at pace, I look at the quality of shot you get. There’s a lot of teams low in pace but high in efficiency. Whatever gives your team the best chance to win.’’