(REUTERS) – LeBron James celebrated his 36th birthday last week, and he is showing no signs of slowing down.
The superstar will try to lead the Los Angeles Lakers (5-2) to their fourth straight National Basketball Association (NBA) victory when they visit the Memphis Grizzlies for the second time in three days on Tuesday (Jan 5) night.
He took control in the fourth quarter of a 108-94 win in Memphis on Sunday afternoon, scoring 13 of his 22 points in that span to help turn a two-point lead into a 14-point victory.
“He does that every single night,” Lakers guard Wesley Matthews said of James.”I think we’ve got a team that follows that lead, and a team that’s comprised of a lot of hard-nosed, tough-minded individuals that are going to hit the deck, that are going to sacrifice their bodies.”
James never averaged less than 35 minutes a game in his first 16 seasons in the NBA. He finally did last season when his minutes dipped to 34.6, and so far this season he’s at 32.1 minutes a game.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel said it’s a challenge finding time to rest James, especially when he knows he’ll need him down the stretch.
“He keeps making big plays and it’s tough to take him out,” Vogel said.
The Grizzlies (2-4) are relying more on team-wide depth this season, especially since losing point guard Ja Morant to a sprained ankle against the Brooklyn Nets on Dec 28.
Morant, who led the Grizzlies in scoring last season (17.8) and was averaging a team-high 26.3 points through three games this season, is expected to be out another two to four weeks.
Tyus Jones started the past two games in place of Morant. He had six points, 12 assists and one turnover in a 108-93 win at the Charlotte Hornets on Friday. Jones came back with 14 points and five rebounds on Sunday against the Lakers.
Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said he’s impressed with the way Jones has maintained his playing style as a starter, especially when it comes to defensive pressure and responsibilities.
“We can always find ways to get better, but I love the progress he’s making and the trend upward on the defensive end,” Jenkins said. “Offensively, just be a really good playmaker, pick his spots, shoot with confidence from the three-point line.”
Lakers centre Marc Gasol is set to make his final appearance of the season in Memphis, where he spent 11 seasons and became the franchise’s all-time leader in rebounds, blocked shots and minutes.
The 35-year-old played his first game in Memphis in nearly two years on Sunday and finished with seven points, six rebounds and four assists in 24 minutes.
“It’s a special place to me that’s been my home, like, I’ve been here so long,” he said. “It’s a huge part of who I am and what I stand for as a man and the values I try to teach.”
Jenkins is also keenly aware of how much the Spaniard means to the Grizzlies and the city of Memphis.
“Ever since I got here, you just hear so many great stories about the impact Marc made on the floor,” Jenkins said. “He helped build a rich history in a short amount of time with the Grizzlies.”
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