It was just over two weeks ago that the Los Angeles Lakers were celebrating a thumping of the Golden State Warriors and near the top of the Western Conference standings, nipping at the heels of the Denver Nuggets for first place.
But the win on Christmas Day came with LeBron James suffering a strained groin in the third quarter, and Rajon Rondo a Grade 3 sprain of his right ring finger that required surgery to repair a damaged ligament.
James and Rondo have each missed the past nine games and it’s uncertain when either will return. James figures to be closest to that point, having been cleared for an increase in on-court work, but he’s due to miss at least two more games. Rondo is still two weeks from reaching the front end of his projected recovery.
The Lakers are 3-9 without their two leaders; the stretch includes Kyle Kuzma sitting out the second half against the Oklahoma City Thunder and two ensuing games because of a lower back contusion. The Lakers lost each of the three games.
With Friday’s defeat at the hands of the ninth-place Utah Jazz, the Lakers are just one game from falling out of the playoff picture for the time being. “Of course. Always,” Kuzma said at practice when asked if he and the Lakers keep an eye on the standings.
While the Lakers have tumbled down to eighth in the Western Conference, they enter Sunday a mere 2.5 games back of third place. “That’s just how the West is,” Kuzma said of the small margin of separation between teams.
“The West is like that every single year. You can’t look too far ahead, you always try to take it one game at a time. We all look at the standings. We all know where we are.”
Having already fallen to the Knicks who snapped a nine-game losing streak, and an undermanned Jazz team, it would behoove the Lakers to bounce back against inferior opponents in the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls.
Following that, their schedule calls for games with the Thunder, Houston Rockets and Warriors.
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