Losing to the Pelicans the other day was already bad for the LA Lakers, but the real loss came in the form of LeBron James’ ankle injury. Yes, he managed to recover and still finished with 39 points, but let’s remember that he finished 2 of 8 in the fourth quarter after using unbelievably strong willpower to keep playing.
That was a really bad ankle roll, especially for a 37-year-old who has now missed 20 games this season. The Lakers are 6-14 with him on the sidelines, showing just how important he is even at the end of his career. He’s still putting up stats, and even though a case could be made for him simply stat padding thanks to his goal of breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record, you can’t deny that the man can still hoop.
With Anthony Davis still missing, and hopeful of coming back soon, the Lakers’ road to the play-in tournament has become even harder. With both Davis and James out against Dallas, the Lakers suffered a 128-110 defeat where they never led, and were down by as much as 37 points. They got a pretty good night from Russell Westbrook, who went 9 of 17 overall and finished with 25 points, eight rebounds and six assists, along with 28 points and four assists from Malik Monk.
However, their efforts were nowhere near enough to win against the Mavericks, who got another triple-double from Luka Doncic. The Slovenian finished with 34 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists on a single turnover in 30 minutes of play. Seven Mavericks scored in double figures in the game as they took advantage of a tired Lakers defense.
Hell, the Lakers couldn’t even catch a break on the injury front against Dallas, as they saw Wenyen Gabriel taken out of the game in garbage time due to injury.
This latest loss has now pushed the Lakers to the 11th seed in the Western Conference, and their path to the play-ins now requires a fair bit of luck. They probably need James and Davis to come back close to healthy, which is tough to assume considering they only have a handful of games left I the regular season.
The San Antonio Spurs are now in the last play-in spot with the same record as the Lakers, by virtue of owning the tiebreaker. The season series between the two teams is tied, and they’re not in the same division, so record vs. conference is the metric used. The Spurs have a far superior 21-24 record, compared to the Lakers’ 16-29.
That means that the Lakers must finish the season with a better record. That’s easier said than done, considering they’ll face only one team moving forward that will not be in the postseason: Utah, New Orleans, Denver (twice), Phoenix, Golden State, and Oklahoma City.
Utah and Denver are still fighting for the fourth seed, as they’re barely behind Dallas. That means they won’t take it easy against the Lakers. An additional possible wrinkle is that Golden State have back-to-back games against the Spurs and Lakers, so if Steve Kerr chooses to rest his starters against San Antonio, the Lakers could face a stronger Warriors squad than the Spurs will.
The Lakers aren’t mathematically out yet, but they really need their stars. The door is quickly closing on their hopes of making the play-ins, and they have to go through a hell of a gauntlet to get there.