LAS VEGAS — Indiana coach Rick Carlisle, who played in the NBA as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar neared retirement and coached as Michael Jordan ended his playing days with Washington, doesn’t view LeBron James through the same lens, apparently.
“LeBron James is in his prime still. I’m watching the guy last night, and it’s phenomenal,” Carlisle said Friday. “This is a guy — someone just gave me the stat. He’s the only player in NBA history who has been the youngest player in the league and the oldest player in the league, both. That speaks to obviously an amazing run of longevity and, in his case, greatness.
“He’s the all-time leading scorer, and if there’s a Mount Rushmore, he’s one of the guys on the NBA Mount Rushmore. That’s what we’re up against tomorrow.”
There are no surprises when it comes to James and the Lakers (14-9), the team rolling into the In-Season Tournament finals Saturday on a three-game winning streak. They’ve handled their business to get here mostly with ease and rolled over the New Orleans Pelicans in the semifinals Thursday night.
James, should the Lakers win, is a lock to be chosen tournament MVP.
Yet as Carlisle talked about James’ place in league history, he did so in the context of talking about the NBA’s bright future. And he just might be coaching a player who will be a huge part of it.
Guard Tyrese Haliburton is averaging 26.9 points and 12.1 assists while hanging around the hallowed 50-40-90 shooting percentage splits for field goals, threes and free throws. He has helped transform Indiana (12-8), also on a three-game winning streak, into one of the NBA’s most exciting teams, and Friday as he bounced around during a media session, he basked in the spotlight.
“I just think for us, we’re not supposed to be here and nobody expected us to be here,” Haliburton said. “We’ve been probably looked at to lose the majority of our tournament games. The Philly game, we weren’t supposed to win. Boston game we definitely weren’t supposed to win. Milwaukee, we definitely weren’t supposed to win. That’s just been part of the storybook of this, and it’s been a lot of fun.
“But it’s not done yet. We’ve got to be prepared to go tomorrow and approach that game the right way.”
After the Lakers’ win Thursday, coach Darvin Ham said he didn’t have the recipe for slowing Haliburton and the Pacers — though it’s a safe bet it involves emerging defender Cam Reddish and anchor Anthony Davis.
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