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Lonnie Walker IV Rewarded LeBron James’s Trust

LeBron James congratulates Lonnie Walker
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

While this deep Lakers run has been heavily fueled by the usual midseason roster shenanigans one expects from a LeBron James team, Lonnie Walker IV was there from the jump. Los Angeles signed him in the summer with the mid-level exception, and the fifth-year guard opened the season as a starter, providing some direly needed spacing before knee tendinitis struck at the end of December. He missed 14 games. By the time he'd returned, D'Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura, and Jarred Vanderbilt were being worked into the fold; Austin Reaves had evolved into a freak foul-drawer and pick-and-roll operator; Walker faded out of the rotation. He played just 15 minutes total in their first-round series against Memphis. In this second-round series against the Warriors, he offered them some garbage-time burn during a Game 2 blowout and a solid 24 minutes in Game 3. With D'Angelo Russell faltering in Game 4, the Lakers called up Walker again. He hauled them to victory with a 15-point fourth quarter, hitting 6-of-9 attempts and two late free throws that solidified the lead.

Whether the root cause is plantar fasciitis or being 38 years old, it is surreal to watch a LeBron James playoff run where he is not the brazen centerpiece of all offense. While he'll still truck into the lane on occasion, he's been very deliberate about when and where to expend his effort, hitting the breaks in semi-transition opportunities that would have scanned as automatic dunks for the last two decades. For long stretches of play, he takes on the role of subdued floor general, helping hunt matchups and deliver the ball wherever he spies opportunity. He entrusted Walker in the final frame of this game. On his first touch of the quarter, he swished a catch-and-shoot three from James. He followed that up with a barrage of late-clock mid-rangers, including a cheeky 15-footer over Steph Curry with 2:40 to go. "I think my confidence was for sure at an all-time high," Walker said after the game. "It's probably a difficult shot for others, but it really isn't a difficult shot for me."

When the buzzer sounded at the end of a 104-101 win, putting the Lakers up 3-1 in the series, Walker collapsed on the floor. James and Anthony Davis blessed him with some celebratory nuzzles, which left Walker in tears.

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