And after Sunday’s 121-114 loss at Staples Center to a Toronto Raptors that came into the night with 12 games under 0.500, LA barely looks like a playoff team.
At 36-28, they now have an identical record to the Portland Trail Blazers, who are currently 7th in the Western Conference. The Lakers are sixth only because they hold the tiebreaker with Portland for beating the Blazers on February 26.
This year, being No.7 doesn’t guarantee you a first-round playoff series. The NBA will host a play-in tournament in which the No.7 and 8 teams will compete against each other and the No.9 and 10 seeded teams will also play. The winner of the 7-8 game advances to the first round and the loser of the 7-8 game plays the winner of the 9-10 game to determine the final playoff place in each conference.
Asked about the possibility of capping a 72-game season after a 71-day offseason with the need to win an extra game just to qualify for the playoffs, Lakers star LeBron James joined the growing chorus criticizing the play format. -in.
“Whoever found this … must be fired,” James said.
The fact that the Lakers even had to comment on a potential play-in scenario says it all, given that in February, the team took a 21-6 start and seemed in a great position to defend its title.
But a calf strain and Achilles tendinosis in Anthony Davis’ right leg caused him to miss nine weeks and a sprained high right ankle caused James to miss six weeks, and suddenly LA is left with more questions. so many answers with only eight games to play on a regular basis. -season schedule.
The first of those comes on the second night of a straight game Monday against MVP leader Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets.
James, who was held the last six minutes, 42 seconds on Sunday after experiencing pain in his right ankle, might not even play there.
“I really want to be healthy. Not just for me, but for our team, ”said James, confirming that he would make the decision based on how he felt on Monday. “I have to make sure my ankle is where it was before the injury. I have to be smart with this. “
James, in plain language, prioritized health and recovery over chasing playoff wins.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if I’m not 100% or close to 100%,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where we land. “
Adding to the level of concern for the Lakers is the fact that Davis, in his sixth game back from injury, looked just as out of his game as James did in his second game – if not more.
Davis scored 12 points on 5 of 16 (including 0 of 3 of 3) against Toronto with nine rebounds, seven assists and three steals, and LA was outscored by 11 in the 33 minutes he played.
“You sort of get used to the 20-25 minutes [range], and now you push 10 more minutes, 12 more minutes and now you have to get that wind that plays that long for an entire game, ”Davis said.
When asked if he was capable at the time of being the same guy who dominated in his first season in Los Angeles, he replied, “I think I can be. Honestly. “
But he also offered an honest assessment of the Lakers’ position, facing another setback ahead of the Raptors game when it was revealed that Dennis Schroder would be out due to league health and safety protocols.
“The whole team is sort of in a slump right now, a drought. No longer individually, but simply collectively, on both sides of the ball, ”Davis said. “It’s the lowest we’ve been in a while… But the only way is to go up. We really can’t be lower than that. “
Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma was less diplomatic.
“I just don’t think we’re connected right now. I think we are in poor health and just not good enough, ”Kuzma said. “We’re just not together as a whole – team, staff, everything. “
When asked what he would do to start fixing what was causing the Lakers rut, Kuzma suggested giving center Marc Gasol more playing time, whose role has been limited since the big man from LA signed Andre Drummond out of the buyout market. Other than that, he was at a loss for words.
“I don’t know, man. It’s just very difficult. It’s just an unfortunate situation, ”he said. “It’s hard, man. It’s just hard. It’s very hard. I do not know what to do. “
Davis mentioned, maybe just to remember, what a lot of the roster accomplished last season when they won it all. There is a pride that comes with it, and it is not yet extinguished.
“It’s no fun losing, but at the end of the day we’re the champions, man. Like, we’re the champions. We are the defending champions, ”said Davis. “So we have to play that way and play with a little more loot. ”