It was merely one month ago that the Los Angeles Lakers routed the Golden State Warriors for an impressive Christmas Day win that left them 2.5 games back of first place in the Western Conference.
LeBron James was unable to finish out that contest because of a groin strain, and Rajon Rondo missed the next 14 games due to a sprained right ring finger that required surgery. Without two of their leaders, the Lakers went into a free fall after rising to fourth in the standings.
They went 5-9 without James and Rondo, and lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves despite seeing the return of the veteran point guard. The Lakers enter Saturday in ninth place, two games back of the Clippers for the final playoff spot.
“We’re a confident group. We feel like we’ve made some really nice strides and are going to be fine,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton said this week when asked about his team’s rough skid. “Speaking for myself, it’s more exciting being right there. When I took the job here, it was a rebuilding job.
“It wasn’t really about [the playoffs]. For the first time this far into the season, you’re in that race, which is what we love. So it’s more excitement. The confidence is there with the group, whether we’re in ninth, 10th, fifth, sixth.”
While the Lakers currently find themselves on the outside looking in, they aren’t far off from potentially catching multiple teams in front of them. Though, the same could be said to possibly tumbling down to 12th, where the Dallas Mavericks are 2.5 games back of the Lakers.
“The way my brain processes information is we’re [3.5 games] out of fifth,” Walton said, explaining a preference to focus on the positive.
His confidence is similar to a response Rondo had when asked about the Lakers’ mindset with respect to the playoffs. Rondo simply put his trust in James, who hasn’t missed the playoffs since his rookie season with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
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