The Los Angeles Lakers lost three games in a row without Anthony Davis in the lineup, and everyone in Tinsel Town is wondering if LeBron James and the Lakers will miss the playoffs this season after they slipped seven games below .500.
The eggheads at FiveThirtyEight estimated that the Lakers have an 8% chance to qualify for the postseason with 21 games remaining, or exactly 25% of the regular season yet to be played.
The Lakers (27-34) currently occupy the #9 seed in the Western Conference standings. If the season were to end today, the Lakers would be headed for the play-in tournament.
The New Orleans Pelicans (28-36) are surging courtesy of a three-game winning streak and they moved into the #10 seed behind the Lakers. The Pelicans recently added CJ McCollum prior to the trade deadline in an attempt to make a run at the playoffs. The Lakers only hold a 1.5-game edge over the Pelicans, meanwhile the Portland Trail Blazers lurking on the bubble are only 2.5 games behind the Lakers.
The LA Clippers (33-31) — the Lakers intercity rival — won four games in a row and moved 4.5 games ahead of the Lakers in the standings with the #8 seed.
Purple and Gold Skid Marks
In the first week of January, the Lakers were 21-19 and in the top five on the NBA future board at DraftKings at +1100 odds to win the championship. However, the Lakers went off the rails since then with a 6-15 stretch.
Davis suffered an MCL sprain in mid-December and finally returned to action in late January after missing four weeks. Even with Davis back in the lineup, the Lakers struggled with a 4-6 record. Just before the All-Star Break, the Lakers lost Davis for a couple more weeks when he suffered a sprained ankle and sprained foot during a freak fall.
The Lakers are a bad team on both ends of the court without Davis in the lineup as their top defender and rim protector. He’s also their second-best scoring option behind LeBron. The Lakers made a huge miscalculation when they traded away a slew of role players to acquire Russell Westbrook in a trade with the Washington Wizards. Westbrook did not vibe with the Lakers, but general manager Rob Pelinka was unable to find a suitable trade partner because Westbrook makes too much money.
Westbrook was stuck in a slump which was compounded by incessant trade rumors that include a trade to the Houston Rockets for John Wall. The rest of the Lakers looked like they were playing in quicksand. Head coach Frank Vogel was put on notice even though it was very obvious he was going to be labeled as the scapegoat on why the Lakers failed to win the championship, let alone miss the playoffs.
LeBron Throws Shade at Pelinka
During the All-Star Break, LeBron returned to Cleveland where they played the 2022 All-Star Game. Some of LeBron’s comments were taken out of context when he hinted that he could return to Cleveland before he ends his career. LeBron had always stated he wanted to play one final season with his son Bronny before he finally hangs it up. He’d play for whichever team drafts Bronny.
However, LeBron was also critical of Pelinka. He did not call out the Lakers GM per se, but he threw some shade when he praised the LA Rams general manager for sacrificing draft picks to acquire Matthew Stafford in a trade in order to win Super Bowl 56. LeBron also praised Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti for putting together an exciting young team that includes Aussie rookie sensation Josh Giddey.
In Pelinka’s defense, he did not have many options to work out a trade for Westbrook or anyone else. The Lakers did not have any trade-worthy assets, so they stood pat at the trade deadline.
After the All-Star Break, LeBron cleared up any miscommunication with the Lakers. He stated he intends to stick around the Lakers for a long time, and that it’s way to early to say that the Lakers are dead in the water and will miss the playoffs.
“We still have games to play,” said LeBron. “Until you stump me out, cut my head off, bury me 12 feet under, then I got a chance. So, that’s my confidence.”
At this point with 21 games to go, the play-in tournament will be the only way the Lakers actually secure a spot as the #8 seed and that’s only if they win it.
On Deck: Clippers, Warriors, Spurs
The Lakers have a tough slog ahead of them the rest of March with 11 out of their next 15 games on the road. In April, the Lakers end the season with six games including three more road games against playoff-ready teams in the Western Conference.
The Lakers play the LA Clippers at Crypto.com Arena on Thursday, so it’s technically a road game, but the Lakers get to sleep in their own beds. Over the weekend on Sunday evening, Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors (43-19) come to Hollywood for a prime-time game on ABC.
Next week, the Lakers head to Texas for two games against easy opponents: San Antonio Spurs (24-38) and Houston Rockets (15-47).
After the Texas jaunt, the Lakers face a challenging and ugly stretch with seven games in 11 days, including five on the road and two back-to-back situations. If the Lakers miss the playoffs, all signs will point to that upcoming hellacious 11-day span in mid-March.
The Lakers saw their 2022 NBA championship odds plummet to +6500, according to the most recent update by DraftKIngs. They’re also +3000 odds to win the Western Conference and secure a spot in the 2022 NBA Finals.