Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James is just two games into his return from a high ankle sprain and while he hasn’t played particularly poorly, the Lakers are not winning. They are 0-2 in his games back and even worse than that, they now sit in a three-way tie for the No. 5 seed.
Over the final eight games of the regular season, the Lakers need to do everything in their power to avoid falling into the No. 7 seed, forcing them to play in the dreaded play-in tournament. The NBA added this version of the play-in tournament this season, including the Nos. 7-10 seeds in each conference. If the Lakers can be the fifth or sixth seed and avoid it, they will get a full week off before the postseason begins.
However, if they fall to seven, which is very possible given the way they’re playing, they will have to play one or two must-win games to earn a postseason bid. This prospect made James particularly upset after the Lakers lost to the Toronto Raptors. “Well, it doesn’t matter at the end of the day if I’m not 100 percent or close to 100 percent. It doesn’t matter where we land. That’s my mindset.
“If it happens we end up at sixth or fifth or whatever the case may be or if we end up in the playoff whatever that thing is. Whoever came up with that shit needs to be fired, but whatever.”
Even though James clearly does not want to be involved in that tournament, he said health is his most important thing for the Lakers’ final eight games. “I really don’t have much level of concern, but my thing is I need to be healthy and I need to make sure that my ankle is where it was before. Obviously, before the injury.
“So obviously I need to be smart with it. I talked to my trainer Mike [Mancias] and [Frank] Vogel with the coaching staff and talking with some of the players as well, but the most important thing for me is to be healthy and to be at full strength when it really matters. It matters now to me, but I hate sitting out games. I hate not being on the floor, but also not helping myself or helping my team when I’m not at full strength.”
The Lakers have maintained that they’re not concerned about their place in the standings so long as they are healthy. However, they’ve let it slip a few times that they desperately want to avoid the play-in. If not because they’re worried about losing, then simply to get the extra days of rest.
L.A.’s final eight games are against some incredibly difficult teams. While they are far from 100% right now, this is the perfect chance to challenge and test themselves to be better heading into the postseason. If they fold against some of these teams now, not only will they be in the play-in, there’s a high chance they could lose before getting close to the finals.
Vogel says Lakers are not playing well right now
Lakers coach Frank Vogel is usually very diplomatic when it comes to his public statements. However, he did not sugarcoat it when discussing the issues with the Lakers currently. “We’re just not playing well right now,” Vogel admitted. “We’re working through that stuff. We definitely missed some 50-50 balls where Toronto was quicker to it. They’re playing some bench guys, they’re playing with energy that don’t typically get the opportunity.
“Some of those possessions we just looked like we were stuck in mud, but we got a good team. We got a good process to evaluate and grow and make adjustments and that’s what we’ve got to do right now.”
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