The Los Angeles Lakers’ rollercoaster season shows no sign of slowing down.
During the Lakers’ 27-point comeback victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, TV cameras caught LeBron James saying he heard his foot “pop” when landing from a layup. The 38-year-old was seen walking gingerly after the game despite being able to finish the win.
Just as the Lakers seem to be building some momentum with a three-game winning streak, with their stars shining and the new additions playing their part, James looks set to be in for a spell on the sidelines.
Multiple reports say the 19-time All-Star could miss several weeks, but is awaiting further tests to determine the full extent of the injury.
James posted a photo of his injured foot to his Instagram story on Monday, after it was announced he would miss the match against the Memphis Grizzlies, along with the caption: “Fkn sucks!!!!”
Just another day in ‘Laker Land’ – and it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
With 21 games remaining and sitting two spots outside of a spot in the postseason’s play-in tournament – and six spots away from automatic qualification to the playoffs – the Lakers remain in danger of missing the playoffs for the second successive season. Or will we see those famous yellow and purple uniforms in the NBA’s business end of the season?
For such a storied franchise and one which was crowned NBA champion just over two years ago, this season has been one full of questions and arguably not one coming up with the right answers.
Heading into the season, general manager Rob Pelinka had his work cut out to round out the team’s roster, even with superstars like James and Anthony Davis on the books – all with limited draft capital largely thanks to the widely criticized trade for Russell Westbrook.
The acquisition of Patrick Beverley in August filled a need but many pundits believed that the Lakers had not done enough to put themselves in contention to compete for a title.
Criticism from fans and pundits was even louder because of the finite amount of time it appears James has left at the top level as he approaches 40 and Pelinka’s inability to build a contender around arguably the NBA’s greatest player.
So the season began as many predicted, with the Lakers winning just two of their first 12 games. On November 12, the Lakers were 14th in the Western Conference.
To the credit of first-year head coach Darvin Ham and the team’s leading players, the Lakers dug themselves out of a hole, winning eight of their next 10 games.
But down to a combination of injuries, lack of consistency and a lopsided roster, the Lakers struggled to kick on and make a serious surge up the standings or show their championship mettle.
Midseason trades seemed to address some of the team’s issues of a lack of defense and shooting from the perimeter – Malik Beasley, D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, Mo Bamba and Davon Reed arriving, while Westbrook was finally shipped out.
After Sunday’s win over the Mavericks, Dallas head coach Jason Kidd said Vanderbilt “kicked our a*s.”
Since the two trades on February 9, the team has gone 4-2 and seemingly turned its season on its head.
What are chances of the Lakers in the playoffs?
In any NBA season until 2020, the Lakers’ chances of competing in the playoffs would be seriously diminished with only eight teams qualifying.
But following the introduction of the play-in tournament during the bubble season in the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, a postseason berth is still within the team’s grasp.
The play-in tournament whittles down the teams ranked seventh to 10th in each conference to determine the final two spots in the playoffs. The seventh seeded team hosts the eighth, with the winner earning the No. 7 seed in the playoffs.
The ninth seeded team hosts the 10th ranked side, with the winner facing the loser of the game between the seventh and eighth seeds; the winner of this game will get the eighth and final spot in the playoff bracket.
It means that at the time of writing, the Lakers are currently on a three-game winning streak, have a record of 29-32 and sit 12th in the Western Conference; a game outside the play-in tournament. They are only two-and-a-half games outside of the sixth spot which would qualify them automatically for the playoffs.
According to the website Tankathon which measures the difficulty of a team’s remaining schedule for the rest of the season, the Lakers have the fifth easiest slate of games left.
It has been a far from perfect season for the Lakers so far, but it appears as if they might be coming into some form after the All-Star break.
Tied in the win column with a similarly imperfect Portland Trail Blazers, we could well be seeing the 17-time NBA champion duking it out in the play-in – James’ injury permitting.
Who knows, in a congested Western Conference, the Lakers could even reach the playoffs using the old-fashioned method.