The Los Angeles Lakers’ loss to the New Orleans Pelicans was the latest in a long line of blown leads by the team this season. The Lakers have had a number of disappointing losses this season, many with big leads, and many despite an outstanding performance by LeBron James, but Sunday’s loss in New Orleans has now made missing the Play-In Tournament a real possibility.
This has been arguably the most disappointing season possibly in the history of the Lakers franchise and that is despite James continuing to play at an MVP-like level in his 19th season. But the Lakers blowing a 23-point first-half lead to the Pelicans, in their most important game of the season, is the perfect microcosm of the season and LeBron didn’t mince words after the contest.
“It feels like s***. Excuse my language, but that’s what it feels like,” James said after the game. “I came here with the mindset of saying it was a playoff-type atmosphere, playoff implications and things of that nature, so I knew that from the jump.
“We also got a lot of guys on our ballclub that haven’t played in playoff games as well and they played a lot of big minutes for us. You got Malik and Wenyen, Austin, Stanley, Talen is pretty much not accustomed to it as well. So we tried to bottle that in and tried to help the young guys understand the magnitude of it and they got guys who’ve been in the postseason. But it feels like a wasted opportunity, obviously, for myself and for our team. We weren’t able to get it done.”
LeBron does make an interesting point in that the younger players on the team don’t have much experience in these kinds of playoff-like atmospheres. Talen Horton-Tucker has minimal experience and the rest of the Lakers’ young players have never seen the postseason. James continued on that point, noting that while the young players have been tremendous this season, they don’t understand the stakes in the same way he or the other veterans do.
“The way that I do? It’s impossible. Everybody? I’ve been in 10 Finals, that’s impossible,” LeBron added. “We have guys that understand it, we have a bunch of vets as well. I believe myself, Russ, Melo, AD, he understands it but he’s not in uniform, Dwight, he’s been through the trenches. But a lot of our other vets aren’t playing.”
“Wayne is not playing, Trevor is not playing, Baze is not playing. They understand it, but they’re not playing. So it’s tough. We have a bunch of newcomers that are helping us out tremendously because we need it, but as far as the experience, with all of us, we haven’t had enough and a lot of guys haven’t had enough individually as well.”
While they may not have the experience, it has been clear throughout the season that the young players like Austin Reaves, Malik Monk and Stanley Johnson have outplayed the veterans regardless of experience. The lack of experience also didn’t hurt the Pelicans as Brandon Ingram, Trey Murphy III and Herb Jones all played excellent on this big stage despite having no playoff experience as well.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, this has simply been the issue all season long. Their inability to hold leads has been on display all season and it could very well cost them a spot not just in the playoffs, but the Play-In Tournament as a whole.
James admits ankle feels ‘horrible’ after sprain in Lakers loss
Making things even worse for James, in particular, is that he severely turned his ankle early in the second quarter of the loss. The fact that he stayed in the game and finished with 39 points is remarkable, but he admitted that his ankle was in a lot of pain.
“It’s horrible. It’s horrible right now and unfortunately we’re about to hop on the flight too. So just got to get treatment around the clock, see what happens day to day. But it’s pretty sore right now.”
James even admitted that he probably wouldn’t have returned had this game not been so important for the Lakers.
“Probably not. Probably no,” he added. “From the time I turned my ankle, I felt a sharp pain on my leg and it started getting hot, I’ve been there before with ankle sprains. But I didn’t want to come out of the game because I understood that I just wanted to win the game, understood how big of a game it was for us.”
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