(CNN) — LeBron James has shown just how much staying healthy and being ready for big moments matters to him.
When James returned to the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday, he was an absolute menace to the Sacramento Kings, scoring 31 points with 17 rebounds and seven assists to carry the Lakers to a 115-111 overtime win at Staples Center.
To be fair, James was injured and missing games when the Lakers won the championship in franchise history in 1980, but Kobe Bryant said his athleticism is the best part of James’ game.
“It’s just, there’s a lot of different categories that they’re talking about, but James is by far the best athlete in the game,” Bryant said. “He’s incredible.”
And for those who thought James might return a broken or bruised body, he proved he’s as tenacious on defense as he is on offense. The defense was immediately evident when James sank the winning 3-pointer to end regulation and force overtime.
James’ two-handed swat in the first half seemed to slow down the Kings’ offense and seemed to jolt the Lakers up, especially when they took their largest lead of the night with 10:22 left in the third quarter.
It’s unclear who hurt Sacramento’s chances of winning the game, but Kings guard De’Aaron Fox suffered a left ankle injury after his trip to the floor. The Kings had a chance to grab the lead after taking a 103-102 lead in overtime, but Kings guard Buddy Hield — who scored a game-high 39 points — missed a three.
And James’ game-winner at the end of regulation, which had him getting fouled, is too amazing not to mention.
James, meanwhile, is just getting started, scoring in all four quarters.
“I don’t do anything by halves,” James said in a postgame interview on TNT. “My goal is to try to get better at every part of my game. I came back trying to show the fans what they’ve missed about me on the floor, just go after it no matter what’s going on.
“That’s just been me throughout my career, just trying to get better every game, every practice, every shootaround and every game. I wasn’t feeling great at all the first half, and then I saw the message at halftime, but I knew I’d be fine.”
What made it all the more impressive was that the two-time defending champion Warriors lost again, with Stephen Curry suffering a sprained left ankle in the third quarter.
Get-off in the deep post
Besides getting ejected from his postgame interview with TNT, James also gave an unusual reason for why he felt the need to dunk on the Kings’ backup center, Willie Cauley-Stein.
“The deep post was wide open,” James said. “I had been practicing it all summer and I practiced it at shootaround this morning, so I had confidence going into it.”
While he’d never considered leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers last summer for his hometown Lakers, James once was happy with the Cavs. But he was hurt in Game 7 of the NBA Finals and admitted it wasn’t easy to watch.
And in that sense, his first year in Los Angeles hasn’t gone as planned, with the Lakers signing James away from the Cleveland Cavaliers.
But James has already been showing what he can do in a uniform that doesn’t include the team’s beloved number 8.
James said the team already has chemistry, saying it’s “pretty obvious.”
Despite injuries that has sidelined him earlier in camp, James said he believes the talent on the team will eventually make the Lakers a powerhouse, especially with him leading the way.
“Being new to a team, a team that I don’t know too much about and a team that I don’t know how we’ll play at times, it would be hard to guess at right now,” James said. “It’s too early to tell.
“It’s still little things that are going to make it hard right now. But we’ve had some battles in the past (in training camp) and nothing has really changed from what I’ve seen in the past.”
Of course, the same can be said about James’ history.
“I just want to continue to get better,” James said. “So we’ll see.”