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Ric Bucher: LeBron James’ defense has hurt the Lakers

In his 21st season, LeBron James continues to put up pretty much the same type of numbers he has always put up. He’s averaging 24.9 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game while shooting 52.0% overall and 39.7% from 3-point range.

He was recently selected to a record 20th All-Star game, and as usual, he will be a starter and captain in the NBA’s midseason classic.

However, James’ defense isn’t exactly what it used to be. He once had a reputation as an elite defender, but that was about a decade ago. These days, plenty have criticized him for what they see as non-existent defense.

Ric Bucher recently took James to task for exactly that. In fact, he seemed to imply that the 39-year-old is a reason why the Los Angeles Lakers have massively underachieved this season (h/t Sportsnaut).

“I’m one of the few who seem to be willing to say it,” Bucher recently told Sportsnaut. “LeBron James’ offensive numbers look great. It’s a testament to how smart he is, his IQ, and finding ways to score. He’s shooting three-pointers at a higher percentage than he ever has. [But] that’s not making everybody else better. That’s getting him his buckets.

“Defensively he’s a nightmare. Go back and watch the Toronto game [from Jan. 9]. For the first three quarters, he was on Scottie Barnes. He wasn’t contesting his threes, he wasn’t doing anything. Then in the fourth quarter, they had Anthony Davis guarding Scottie Barnes.”

“… There are three components that made him [James] one of the best. One, because he could defend. Two, because he could make plays, and three, because he can score. I’m only seeing one of those on a consistent basis at this point. So, he shouldn’t be the same. He’s not the same. It’s OK to admit that at this point. But because he’s not the same and the Lakers have always been so LeBron-centric since he got there, that’s at the heart of trying to make this work.”

After back-to-back losses to the Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks, the Lakers are now 24-25. Their defense, which didn’t look too bad earlier this season, has completely fallen apart lately, and just like that, their recent spurt of five wins in seven contests has gone kaput.

With James on the floor, L.A. has had a defensive rating of 113.3, but without him, that number has been slightly better at 112.7. While he needs to conserve his energy at this point of his career, the team also needs him to give 100% on the defensive end, and it’s a conundrum that will need to be figured out if it is to go anywhere of note in the coming months.

Story originally appeared on LeBron Wire