The Los Angeles Lakers, once Western Conference favorites and NBA champions from just a year and a half ago are 31-45 and 11th in the West.
LA has won five of its last 22 games in what has been a disastrous second half of the season, and they are not sitting on the outside looking in at the play-in tournament, much less the postseason. Even more importantly, LeBron James is averaging 42.6 points per game during their five wins in this treacherous stretch, which is not a sustainable formula for winning basketball games.
Both LeBron and Anthony Davis are reportedly targeting returns from injuries Friday night, but at this point, the Lakers are doing themselves a disservice by bringing them back onto the court.
LeBron and AD return
Anthony Davis has only played in 37 of the team’s 76 games this season, and he has been far from his usual self. His last two seasons have been his worst since his first two years in the league, and he has been victimized by extensive injuries in both.
There were reports last offseason that the Lakers had considered trading Davis, only to have them quickly and vehemently overruled by team personnel; however, recent reports once again indicate that the team is willing to explore a future without AD on its roster.
Davis was originally brought in to be the future of the Lakers’ franchise after LeBron eventually succumbed to age. What has happened over the past two years has been a harsh reality for a team that seems to have put its eggs in the wrong basket.
LeBron, on the other hand, has missed the past couple of games after turning an ankle in a game against the New Orleans Pelicans that he ultimately played out but allowed a 20-point turnaround. He was harsh on his teammates after the game, citing their lack of urgency and inability to live up to a “playoff atmosphere” as reasons for the choke job.
Shutting it down
The Lakers have a thin chance of making it out of the play-in tournament and into the playoffs if they even get out of the 11th seed and make the play-in at all.
Hypothetically assuming they do solidify their spot in the 10th seed and somehow win two best-of-ones, they would then take on the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. Phoenix eliminated LA in the first round of last year’s bracket in six games.
The Suns are also an even better team this time around than they were in the last one; they have bolstered their frontcourt depth, allowed their young role players more time to mature and have Devin Booker playing the best basketball of his entire career.
The purple and gold has lost all three season matchups with Phoenix thus far, so it is a surprise that the Lakers would be willing to risk the long-term health of their two franchise cornerstones only to lead them into a buzzsaw.
It is not as if the team has been missing its two stars and is ready to thrive otherwise— the Lakers have been awful in traditional and advanced metrics and are one of the worst teams against the spread. This is not some case of the Memphis Grizzlies going 18-2 without Ja Morant and welcoming his return, this is a case of the Lakers being an overall inept team that is aimlessly taking risks on its stars.
General manager Rob Pelinka did a poor enough job constructing the roster during the offseason, and head coach Frank Vogel has never had a real hold of his team during his three years on the West Coast, even during the championship run. Both men should be questioned, to put it lightly, about their decisions to play James and Davis in the dying moments of the season.