As of March 2, it all leaves LA squarely in the play-in tournament — its only chance to salvage whatever may be left of the season. It’s never wise to count out LeBron completely, but if the Lakers are going to make a playoff run, it will have to start with the play-in.
Which is incredibly ironic considering LBJ had no problem saying the creator of the whole thing “needs to be fired” less than a year ago.
LeBron James and the Lakers are either play-in bound or vacation bound
Bron has played up to his usual standards, which, considering he’s 37 years old, in his 19th NBA season, and is pretty much LA’s only hope, is pretty wild.
James averaged 28.3 points in February, the eighth-most in the league. He added 9.3 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game on better than 50% shooting from the floor.
But the Lakers were 3-6 during that stretch and, after blowing a lead to Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks on March 1, fell to 3-7.
That puts LA ninth in the Western Conference standings, a whopping 22 games back of the first-place Phoenix Suns and nine games back of the sixth-place Denver Nuggets — the last seed to avoid the play-in. LeBron and the Lakers are closer to missing the playoffs altogether as they’re only two games in front of the 11th-place Portland Trail Blazers.
It’s either win (most of the final 21 games of the season) or go home.
The King voiced his hatred for the entire idea last season
Last year, when his team finished seventh in the West and was the highest-seeded squad forced to play in the inaugural play-in tournament (coincidence?), James voiced some strong opposition via SI.
“Whoever came up with that s*** needs to be fired,” he said.
The Lakers won, kept the No. 7 seed, and promptly lost to the eventual Western Conference Champion Suns in six games.
This year, however, LeBron is likely singing a different tune as that tournament is the only thing keeping his Lakers’ playoff hopes alive.
Before the play-in existed, the top eight seeds in each conference would make the playoffs. If you were ninth, your season was over.
Well, LA currently is ninth and a whole lot closer to 10th than it is to eighth. If it weren’t for “that s***,” James would be heading to the warm island of his choice instead of making another possible run at a championship, however unlikely.
Thank god for the play-in tournament, right?
LeBron likely has a different view now of the only thing that could save his season
After his team’s loss to the Mavs, James had this to say per ESPN:
“We still have games to play,” he said. “Until you stomp me out, cut my head off, bury me 12 feet under, then I got a chance. So that’s my confidence.
“Obviously, at the end of the day, we got to come in here and win ballgames, and we got to play better. But as long as we’ve got more games to play, we should have a chance.”
Even Westbrook added, “Super confident that we’re going to be all right. I’ve got confidence in this group like I always have.”
They would absolutely say the same if the play-in didn’t exist. There are still games left, the Lakers still have LeBron, and the season isn’t over.
But their chances are dramatically increased now that they have a shot at the playoffs as the ninth or 10th seed. Privately, James is surely glad that guy never got fired.
All statistics courtesy of NBA.com.