NBA Playoff Race Heats Up as Lakers Brace for LeBron James’ Absence
Anthony Davis, Lakers
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA regular season is approaching its final stretch, with about 40 days left until the end of the season. Teams are competing to secure a spot in the playoffs and make a run for the championship. Several franchises with losing records are still within striking distance from making the playoffs, including the 29-33 Los Angeles Lakers.

The Lakers are facing a tough challenge without LeBron James, who will be out indefinitely due to a right foot injury sustained in a game against the Mavericks. According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, James will miss “an extended period,” and the Lakers are bracing for his absence to be multiple weeks.

Trevor Lane of LakersNation was more direct, saying, “best case he’s out three weeks, worst case he’s done for the season”

The Lakers have been struggling with injuries this season, but they added more depth to the roster after acquiring five new players at the trade deadline.

Jarred Vanderbilt, D’Angelo Russell, Mo Bamba, Malik Beasley, and Rui Hachimura were all brought in to bolster the team’s chances of making a deep run in the playoffs. While losing James is a massive blow, Darvin Hamm and the Lakers are confident they can still compete with the best teams in the league.

What’s Next for Los Angeles?

Hachimura is the most likely candidate to replace James in the starting lineup, and he has played well in his limited role this season, averaging 10.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. The Lakers know there is no easy replacement for James’ production, but they are confident they can make up for it with a team effort.

D’Angelo Russell and Dennis Schroder are expected to take on a significant workload as floor generals. Anthony Davis, who played some of the best basketball of his career when healthy this season, will be counted on to step up to carry the load for Los Angeles. Malik Beasley, Troy Brown Jr., Lonnie Walker IV, and Austin Reaves are all expected to see increased playing time, with the hope that the team can get James back for at least the last 8-10 games.

Lakers Odds

Odds makers in Las Vegas are giving the Lakers a 32.8 percent chance of making the postseason, and New York Sportsbooks Apps have them at +225 odds to reach the play-in round

The Lakers are sitting in 12th place, just a game back of the New Orleans Pelicans in tenth, thanks to a loss on Monday night, and a half-game behind the Portland Trail Blazers. Only four and a half games separate the 4th-place Phoenix Suns and the 13th-place Oklahoma City Thunder, with ten teams jockeying for seven playoff birth spots.

While getting into the postseason through the play-in tournament will be challenging, the Lakers believe they can do it. If James can return before the end of the regular season, it’s certainly within the cards for the Lakers. Vegas may be down on the Lakers following this injury, but all hope isn’t lost for the team.

Tough Closing Schedule

Despite the Western Conference’s struggles this year, finishing above .500 would likely secure the team a spot in the play-in game, with anything beyond that being a bonus. However, after the Lakers’ loss to Memphis on Tuesday, the team must win 13 of their remaining 20 games to secure a record.

The Lakers have one more game left on their road trip against Oklahoma City, a game which they are expected to win. The team then starts a long stretch of home games, with five in a row at the Staples Center. Though some tricky games are expected, the Lakers should aim to exceed .500 to maintain their pace.

A good stretch follows from March 14 to March 26, with most games expected to be winnable. The late-season road trip from March 29 to April 9 will be a test for the Lakers, with games against Minnesota and Utah being critical for their playoff chances.

While this isn’t a set-in-stone path for the Lakers, it highlights the team’s little wiggle room for the remainder of the season.

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