Losers of six out of their previous seven video games with simply two weeks remaining within the common season, the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers do not look something like a title crew proper now.
And after Sunday’s 121-114 defeat at Staples Middle to a Toronto Raptors crew that got here into the night time 12 video games beneath .500, L.A. hardly even resembles a playoff crew.
At 36-28, they now have the identical file because the Portland Path Blazers, who’re presently within the No. 7 spot within the Western Convention. The Lakers are in sixth solely as a result of they maintain the tiebreaker with Portland from beating the Blazers on Feb. 26.
This yr, being No. 7 would not assure you a first-round playoff collection. The NBA will maintain a play-in match during which the Nos. 7 and eight groups face off and groups seeded Nos. 9 and 10 may also play. The winner of the 7-8 sport advances to the primary spherical and the loser of the 7-8 sport performs the winner of the 9-10 sport to find out the ultimate playoff berth in every convention.
Requested about doubtlessly capping a 72-game season that adopted a 71-day offseason with needing to win an additional sport simply to qualify for the postseason, Lakers star LeBron James joined the rising refrain criticizing the play-in format.
“Whoever got here up with that s— must be fired,” James mentioned.
The truth that the Lakers even needed to touch upon a possible play-in situation says all of it contemplating in February the crew was off to a 21-6 begin and appeared in wonderful place to defend its title.
However a calf pressure and Achilles tendinosis in Anthony Davis’ proper leg prompted him to overlook 9 weeks and a excessive proper ankle sprain prompted James to overlook six weeks, and all of a sudden L.A. finds itself with extra questions than solutions with solely eight video games left on the regular-season schedule.
The primary of these come on the second night time of a back-to-back on Monday towards MVP front-runner Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets.
James, who was held out the ultimate six minutes, 42 seconds on Sunday after experiencing soreness in his proper ankle, won’t even play in it.
“I positively need to get wholesome. Not just for myself, however for our crew,” James mentioned, confirming he would make the choice primarily based on how he feels Monday. “I want to verify my ankle is the place it was earlier than the harm. I’ve acquired to be good with it.”
James, in no unsure phrases, prioritized well being and restoration over chasing wins for playoff seeding.
“It would not matter on the finish of the day if I am not 100% or near 100%,” he mentioned. “It do not matter the place we land.”
Including to the priority degree for the Lakers is the truth that Davis, in his sixth sport again from harm, seemed simply as off his sport as James did in his second sport again — if no more.
Davis scored 12 factors on 5-of-16 taking pictures (together with 0-of-3 from 3) towards Toronto with 9 rebounds, seven assists and three steals, and L.A. was outscored by 11 within the 33 minutes he performed.
“You sort of get used to the 20-25 minutes [range], and now you push up 10 extra minutes, 12 extra minutes and now you bought to get that wind enjoying that lengthy for a complete sport,” Davis mentioned.
When requested if he’s succesful in the mean time of being the identical man who dominated throughout his first season in L.A., he mentioned: “I believe I may be. Truthfully.”
However he additionally provided an trustworthy evaluation of the place the Lakers stand, coping with one more setback earlier than the Raptors sport when it was revealed that Dennis Schroder could be out due to the league’s well being and security protocols.
“Your entire crew is sort of in a hunch proper now, a drought. No more so individually, however simply collectively, on each ends of the ball,” Davis mentioned. “That is the bottom we have been shortly … However the one manner is up. We actually cannot get any decrease than this.”
Lakers ahead Kyle Kuzma was much less diplomatic.
“I simply do not assume we’re linked proper now. I believe we’re unhealthy and simply not ok,” Kuzma mentioned. “We’re simply not collectively as an entire — crew, employees, all the pieces.”
When requested what he would do to start to restore no matter is inflicting the Lakers’ rut, Kuzma recommended giving extra enjoying time to middle Marc Gasol, whose position has been restricted since L.A. signed massive man Andre Drummond off the buyout market. Aside from that, he was perplexed.
“I do not know, man. It is simply very powerful. It is simply an unlucky state of affairs,” he mentioned. “It is powerful, man. It is simply powerful. It is very powerful. I am undecided what to do.”
Davis talked about, perhaps if solely to remind himself, what many on the roster achieved final season after they gained all of it. There is a pleasure that comes with that, and it hasn’t died out simply but.
“It is no enjoyable if you’re shedding, however on the finish of the day, we are the champs, man. Like, we’re the champs. We are the defending champs,” Davis mentioned. “So we acquired to play that manner and play with a bit bit extra swag.”