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J.R. Smith: Playing with Lakers’ LeBron James a ‘Gift and a Curse’

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA - AUGUST 22: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates a play with teammate JR Smith #21 during the first half of Game Three of the first round of the playoffs between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Portland Trail Blazers at the AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on August 22, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images)

Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images

Former NBA guard J.R. Smith said during an appearance on HBO’s Game Theory with Bomani Jones that while playing alongside LeBron James can be great, it can also be very difficult.

“… Honestly, it’s a gift and a curse playing with Bron. I love Bron to death, and I love playing on his team because, for me, I feel like I thrive more under the pressure,” Smith said, per Jenna Lemoncelli of the New York Post. “But a lot of guys don’t like it because it can go one of two ways.

“It’s either, what did you not do to help him win, and who else did not help him win. It’s like, bro, don’t get me wrong—yes, he had 40-15-9 or 8—but he missed a free throw, too.”

Smith added:

“And I think for a lot of guys, it’s hard to — especially with the day and age we in, social media… we got analysts running around talking crazy. And you playing on that team and I think they’re [the Lakers] what, 12th or 13th? And they are still the most talked-about team on TV.

“So, it’s always going to be that supporting cast of who’s not doing what… if you’re not built for that, you’re not made for that, it’s going to eat you alive.”

Game Theory with Bomani Jones @GameTheoryHBO

“He missed a free throw too. Don’t just look at me because I missed a open shot. We all missin’ out here!”

J.R. Smith (@TheRealJRSmith) on the pressure of playing with LeBron James. pic.twitter.com/lhBj896YqA

James has four NBA titles, four MVP awards and is the league’s all-time leading scorer, among various other accolades across his 20-year career.

The 38-year-old hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, either. He’s averaging 29.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 6.9 assists this season while shooting 50.1 percent from the floor and 30.8 percent from deep.

With James still competing at a high level when healthy, there’s always a significant amount of pressure on his supporting cast to help him win more championships.

Smith played alongside James with the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2015-2018. They helped lead the franchise to its first NBA title in 2016, though Smith was also criticized for his performance in the 2018 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors.

In particular, Smith is often remembered for running out the clock instead of taking a shot in Game 1 with the score tied at 107. The Cavs went on to lose that game in overtime and were eventually swept by the Warriors.

Ballislife.com @Ballislife

“I knew we were tied.”
2 years ago today, JR Smith’s blunder in GM1 of the 2018 NBA Finals.

Here’s the full heartbreaking bench video pic.twitter.com/yMjKV2kfti

Smith also played with James on the Lakers during the 2019-20 season, winning a championship together in the Walt Disney World bubble. Smith retired from the NBA after that season.

The Lakers have struggled mightily this season and currently sit ninth in the Western Conference with a 32-34 record.

James made it clear ahead of this season’s trade deadline that the Lakers needed to make some upgrades to their supporting cast if they wanted to win another title. So, they traded Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverley and went on to add Mo Bamba, Jarred Vanderbilt, D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley and Rui Hachimura.

While that supporting cast, in addition to Anthony Davis, has helped the team improve following the deadline, the Purple and Gold are still awaiting the return of James, who is recovering from a right foot injury.

Once James returns, the pressure on both him and the supporting cast is going to be pretty significant, especially with the regular season beginning to wind down.

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