After years of rebuilding and developing a young core, expectations and trajectory of the franchise dramatically changed last summer when LeBron James signed a four-year contract. Although James made a long-term commitment, pressure to win now began to hover over the team.
James publicly praised the Lakers’ collection of young talent and explained he didn’t feel the need to pressure the front office into pursuing a second All-Star. Whether influenced by James or not, that changed when Anthony Davis demanded a trade from the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Lakers were unable to rescue Davis, but presumably will pursue a trade again in the offseason. In the meantime, the Lakers went into the All-Star break with consecutive losses and below .500 for the first time since early November.
Falling to the Philadelphia 76ers can be explained, but losing to the Atlanta Hawks ranks among the worst defeats of the season for the Lakers.
A need for urgency has begun to set in for the Lakers, which James said the inexperienced roster hasn’t yet played under, via Spectrum SportsNet:
“Some of the guys have never played a playoff game before, so you can’t teach them that. But it’s very important to understand how important every game is, no matter who you’re playing or where you are.”
Tuesday’s loss kept the Lakers in 10th place in the Western Conference and 2.5 games back of the Sacramento Kings. Though, James downplayed having any concern over potentially missing the playoffs:
“Until you either make it or don’t make it. That’s when you worry about it.”
At best, the Lakers will be two games back of the Kings or Clippers for eighth place when they return from the All-Star break. They will have 25 games remaining on their schedule, with matchups against the Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors, among others.
Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka recently expressed a hope the Lakers will find a way to sneak into the playoffs to put James in position to lead them on an improbable run. He drew a parallel to the regular-season struggles eventual Super Bowl champion Tom Brady and the New England Patriots endured.
James has streaks of eight consecutive NBA Finals appearances and 13 straight trips to the playoffs on the line. James and the Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t reach the playoffs in each of his first two seasons in the NBA, the only such occurrences in his career.
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