LeBron James and the Lakers Are in Critical Danger of Reaching an Unspeakable Low Point

Somewhere during the season, it became clear that the 2021-22 Los Angeles Lakers were headed toward disaster. And not the type LeBron James could save them from.

Perhaps the turning point for LA was blowing a 26-point lead to the lowly Oklahoma City Thunder on Oct. 27. Or its 37-point loss to the Denver Nuggets on Jan. 15. Or a defeat at the hands of a G League version of the Portland Trail Blazers on Feb. 9. Whenever the case, it is now painfully clear that the Lakers aren’t marred in a prolonged slump: This is who they are.

At 31-43, the Lakers have eight games to ensure their spot in the play-in round. But barring a miracle, it seems LeBron and company will be watching the fun from the comfort of their living rooms in two weeks’ time.

The Lakers will fall out of a play-in spot if they lose their next game

To no surprise, the Lakers are reeling. LA has lost its last two games, most recently blowing a 23-point lead to the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday. Worse yet, James turned his ankle in the first half, putting him in danger of missing some of LA’s final few games.

With LeBron and Anthony Davis both doubtful, the Lakers will travel to Texas to battle the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs, led by superstar Luka Doncic, are now fourth in the West with a 46-29 record, making them decisive favorites against the Purple and Gold.

But LA losing to Dallas on Tuesday night will have far greater implications than any other loss it’s experienced thus far.

As things stand, LA is clinging to the 10-seed after being passed by the Pelicans on Sunday. It now holds a half-game lead over the San Antonio Spurs, winners of their last four. A loss to the Mavericks would drop the Lakers into a tie with the Spurs, a tie San Antonio would have the advantage in due to their superior conference record.

That means unless the LeBron-less Lakers can somehow beat the Mavericks on the road, they’re going to fall out of the play-in round.

For perspective, Sunday was the first time LA had fallen past the nine-seed all season. Now, it’s in peril of dropping to the 11-seed with eight more games left to play.

LA’s schedule will make the road to the play-in increasingly difficult

The Lakers are facing an unthinkable reality of missing the play-in round altogether. But surely they must have a good chance to get back into it, right?

Wrong.

With James and Davis both nursing injuries, LA is about to embark on what very well could be its most difficult stretch of the entire schedule. Here’s what lies ahead for the Purple and Gold between now and the end of the season:

  • Tue 3/29: @ Mavericks
  • Thu 3/31: @ Jazz
  • Fri 4/1: vs. Pelicans
  • Sun 4/3: vs. Nuggets
  • Tue 4/5: @ Suns
  • Thu 4/7: @ Warriors
  • Fri 4/8: vs. Thunder
  • Sun 4/10: @ Nuggets

For starters, five of those eight games are on the road, where the Lakers are a paltry 11-25. Not to mention, all five of those road games are against teams within the top six of the West.

Not only are the quality of opponents strong, but the number of games in a given week will be difficult for a hobbled Lakers team to manage. With four games in each of the next two weeks, it increases the likelihood of LeBron and AD missing critical games at the most important time of the season.

The one saving grace is that five of San Antonio’s final seven games are against contending teams as well. But it’s clear the Spurs are in the driver’s seat, making it very likely that LA finishes its season on Apr. 10.

Changes are coming for the Lakers, regardless of whether they make the play-in round

There are two things everyone should know when it comes to this year’s disappointing Lakers squad. Even if they find a way to sneak into the play-in round, their journey will end no later than the first round, regardless of what some pundits like Shaquille O’Neal may say. And changes are coming.

Many changes, in fact.

With a collection of veterans on one-year deals, you can expect general manager Rob Pelinka to rebuild LA’s lackluster bench. Though that may come after relieving head coach Frank Vogel of his duties. From there, the Lakers will need to figure out what to do with Russell Westbrook, whose $47.0 million player option makes him almost impossible to trade.

While that leaves LeBron and AD, there’s no guarantee the duo will remain together past this season. After another injury-plagued campaign, it bears wondering whether Pelinka would entertain the idea of trading Davis, who has three years and $121.7 million left on his deal.

With no cap space and no immediate draft picks, trading Davis could allow LA to start preparing for the future. A future that eventually won’t include the 37-year-old LeBron averaging 30.0 points in an otherwise-unspectacular season.

Big moves are on the horizon for the Purple and Gold. But first, they’ll have to suffer through one more embarrassment.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.

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