When the Los Angeles Lakers lost Anthony Davis to an injury earlier this season, there was no cause to panic. They could bring him back fairly slowly, saving his health for the playoffs, because as long as they had LeBron James and a healthy Dennis Schroder, there was enough firepower to tread water in a crowded Western Conference.
But now, with LeBron out for the next 3-5 weeks with an ankle injury and questions swirling about the 36-year-old’s durability in his 18th year in the league? Questions largely complicated by the fact of LeBron’s odometer showing 1,566 regular-season and playoff games and 60,750 minutes, including leading the league in minutes played in both the regular season and playoffs (a combined 3,948 minutes total) as recently as 2018?
LeBron was just about two games away from passing the 50,000-minute mark, which would move him past Elvin Hayes into sixth all-time, and another half season or so away from passing Dirk Nowitzki to move all the way into third (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone are the top two.)
Funny how Kareem and the Mailman are also the only two guys left ahead of LeBron on the all-time scoring list as well…
The point here is that the Lakers were always “two superstars and a G-League team”, and nowhere was that fact more on display than in a truly ugly four-game losing streak in which they lost by double digits to the Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Pelicans and dropped two other contests to the Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers.
They didn’t just lose. They never looked in any way like winning.
Philly outscored them 35-17 in the third quarter of their contest and took an 18-point lead into the fourth quarter.
New Orleans was up 26 before letting off the gas in the last 12 minutes.
Only Phoenix didn’t win the third quarter of the three full games the Lakers were without LeBron after he went down in the Hawks game, and they carried a 17-point lead into halftime and shut Los Angeles down in the fourth, holding them to just 18 points.
When your starting five is Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Markieff Morris, Dennis Schroder, and Wesley Matthews, what you’ve got there is a team that looks an awful lot like the garbage fire that went 9-18 without LeBron (a 27-55 82-game pace) in 2019.
The Lakers are currently 29-17, fourth in the West, with 26 games to go. If they go 8-18 the rest of the way, that’s a 37-35 record to take into the playoffs, and the way the West is shaking out so far, that might not even get them into the top six.
If they end up the 7 or 8 seed, they’re going to have to win at least one play-in game in two tries to get into the playoffs for real, with the league holding a mini-tournament for those spots in the postseason.
If LeBron’s still rusty and Davis isn’t healthy? Who’s to say they’ll beat Dallas or San Antonio or Memphis or Golden State or whoever ends up in those spots alongside the Lakers?
It is panic time. You can sneak into the playoffs as a 6 seed and be just fine in this 2021 season. But without LeBron and the Brow, we’ve already seen two years ago what a steaming hot pile of crap this Lakers team is; if Dennis Schroder or Kyle Kuzma is your third-best player, you suck.
The Lakers can’t rush LeBron back…but they can’t afford to let him rest up fully either. This could get real ugly come Memorial Day.