The Los Angeles Lakers are on the brink of seeing their playoff aspirations dissipate entirely. On Sunday night, LeBron James and the Lakers took another step back after falling to a disappointing second-half collapse against the New Orleans Pelicans.
The loss further pushes the realistic reality that the Lakers could miss the play-in tournament. Los Angeles now has another reason for significant concern after James’ ankle injury.
Lakers suffer deflating loss to the Pelicans
The Lakers circled Sunday’s matchup against the Pelicans as a play-in tournament primer.
Los Angeles handled its business in the first half, holding a 20-point lead behind LeBron James scoring 25 points. However, New Orleans stormed back in the second half, outscoring them 67-39. Rookie Trey Murphy III scored all of his 21 points in the final two quarters, helping shift the tide in the Pelicans’ favor.
The Lakers went ice cold from beyond the arc in the final frame, hitting 1 of 13 attempts after going 13 of 24 in the first three quarters. The loss pushes Los Angeles to the 10th spot in the Western Conference standings, only a half-game below New Orleans and a game ahead of the San Antonio Spurs.
Beyond that, the Lakers were dealt another concerning blow involving James’ latest injury.
LeBron James just revealed the crushing truth about his ankle injury
The disappointing loss featured another discouraging development as LeBron James suffered an ankle injury.
The injury occurred in the second quarter as James attempted to get position for the rebound that saw him step on Pelicans’ center Jaxson Hayes’ shoe and turn his ankle outward. He remained on the floor before getting up and re-lacing his shoe on the bench to stay in the game, finishing with a game-high 39 points and nine rebounds in 42 minutes.
“I mean, I have no idea how I finished the game, to be honest, after watching that replay,” James said via ESPN‘s Dave Mcmenamin. “It’s pretty nasty.”
James added that the ailment caused him pain throughout the contest, feeling a “sharp pain” run up his leg occasionally during the game. He also voiced that he wouldn’t have finished the game if the contest didn’t highly impact the parameters of the Lakers’ play-in tournament situation.
The 37-year-old hopes he won’t miss any time as he plans on receiving “around the clock” treatment before Tuesday’s contest against the Dallas Mavericks.
“It’s horrible right now. And unfortunately, we’re about to hop on a flight, too,” James said. “See what happens day-to-day. But it’s pretty sore right now.”
The injury is another deflating factor as the Lakers are leaning heavily on the 18-time All-Star to lead them forward. Losing him for any stretch could be a gut blow to their play-in tournament chances.
Los Angeles is only a game ahead of the 11th-seed Spurs, making every remaining game critical. The pressure is on them to finish strong even if James is hobbled.
Lakers must finish the regular season strong
If James aims not to miss any games or as little as possible, the ankle injury will remain bothersome for the rest of the season.
He will be operating with limitations regardless of how he handles the situation, putting more pressure on the rest of the roster to pick up the slack. All that makes Anthony Davis’ return more crucial. Davis is in line to make his potential comeback as early as next week.
Meanwhile, the Lakers have only eight more games left in the regular season, holding the slimmest of margins ahead of the Spurs in the standings. Los Angeles could still move ahead of New Orleans, but that requires a strong finish to the regular season.
The Lakers will play the Pelicans again after a challenging set of road games against the Mavericks Tuesday, then the Utah Jazz on Thursday night. Their last five games feature matchups against the Denver Nuggets (twice), Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors, and Utah Jazz.
Los Angeles’ backs are against the wall, and it’s the moment of truth ahead.