LOS ANGELES – Lebron James is in trouble.
So are his Los Angeles Lakers. And the NBA. Even worse, the fans who expect to see King James in the postseason every year.
For James, making it to the playoffs has always been a forgone conclusion every season. In fact, he has owned the postseason with eight straight trips to the NBA Finals.
But with his move West this season after leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers via free agency to join the Lakers, most didn’t expect a trip to the Finals right away. After all, the Golden State Warriors – bigger and better than ever – are in the way.
Still, many just assumed he’d at least be in the playoffs, even though he joined a young team that hadn’t been in the playoffs in five years.
This Lakers team is bad – with or without James.
That’s a mouthful and hard to swallow for many basketball fans.
And it’s not just an overreaction to their terrible loss to the Pelicans in New Orleans on Saturday night.
The Pelicans defeated the Lakers tonight in New Orleans by a final score of 128-115. Jrue Holiday led the Pelicans with 27 points (10-18 FG) and 7 assists, while Julius Randle added 24 points (9-17 FG) and 5 assists in the victory.
Did we mention that the loss came the hands of the Pelicans who were playing the back end of a back-to-back? Did we mention that the Pelicans’ superstar Anthony Davis didn’t play?
Even worse, did we mention that the Lakers were riding high after coming back from 19 points down to shock the Houston Rockets?
Even with all that in their favor, the Lakers lost – even with LeBron. In the seven games since he returned from injury, the Lakers are 3-4, including losses to the Atlanta Hawks and Pelicans.
That’s how bad this team is when you pull back the covers and turn on the light. This young core has been disappointing.
Even James had to take his team to task after losing a must-win game this late in the season.
“How many know what’s at stake if you never been there?” James asked the media after another bad loss, dropping his team to 29-30.
“I’m playing devil’s advocate, you know? It’s kind of a fine line when you talk about that, because when you’ve never been there or know what it takes to actually shoot for something like that, sometimes you’re afraid to get uncomfortable.”
Lakers’ coach Luke Walton said he’s not going to change anything at this point even as the pressure starts to build about making the postseason.
“Some of that will depend on how the games are going, but the key for us and I think any good team that has success is you get lost in the process,” Walton said to reporters after the debacle in New Orleans. “You get lost in what we need to work on in practice.
“You get lost in the one game that you have ahead of you that one night. That level of focus has to be much greater for our team, but the overall prep, the overall messaging is going to stay the same.”
Good luck. This same group was bad when James was out with a groin injury. Without LeBron, the Lakers were a woeful 6-12. Add to that, the Lakers lost back-to-back home games to the Knicks and Cavs, two of the worst teams in the league.
In fact, the Knicks went on to lose 18 straight after beating the Lakers.
The Knicks defeated the Lakers, 119-112 tonight in Los Angeles. Tim Hardaway Jr. led the Knicks with 22 points (7-18 FG) and 6 rebounds, as Enes Kanter tallied 16 points and 15 rebounds in the game.
Besides shoddy play, they have other things standing in the way of them making the playoffs.
Check the schedule. It’s not easy at all. The Lakers have 14 of their final 23 games against teams over .500.
And LA has a losing record against over .500 teams.
The Clippers and Kings are ahead of them for the eighth and final playoff spot. And don’t laugh.
While it’s in the Clippers’ best interest not to win – they could lose a draft pick – the Kings are in a different boat. Don’t expect them to crumble at the end. They have played well all season. On Saturday night, they beat the Thunder in impressive fashion.
Lastly, the Lakers’ final five games are all against teams currently in the playoff picture.
LeBron hasn’t missed the playoffs since his first two seasons in the NBA. This late in the game, few would believe he would be here.
The Lakers not making the playoffs isn’t just probable, it’s definitely possible.