In December, things were looking bright for the purple and gold. The team were flirting with a top-4 seed in a packed Western Conference and seemed to be the real deal. As we know, things went pear-shaped when LeBron James fell to injury against the Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day. The period in which James was out, and poor form upon his return, provided the Lakers with a losing record of 28-29 going into the All-Star break.
The team are currently 3 games out of the 8th seed and are in need of a huge post All-Star break push to keep their postseason dreams alive. Hopefully the break has given the Lakers the spark needed, as last time out they fell to the lowly Atlanta Hawks. 25 games remain in the 2018/19 regular season and unfortunately for the Lakers, they hold one of the toughest remaining schedules.
13 of those games take place on the road and are against high-ranked teams, including; the Rockets, Nuggets, Celtics, Raptors, Thunder, Warriors, Trail Blazers, Clippers, and the Utah Jazz. If the Lakers aim for 47 wins, for example, they will have to go 19-6 during this tough stretch. You can certainly see where the doubts creep in.
Obviously, if there is one man to carry this team to the playoffs it’s LeBron James. But the question remains whether James still has it in the tank at 34-years-old, whilst taking on the powerhouses of the Western Conference for the first time in his career. James has missed 17 games due to injury this season and there are doubts surrounding his current health, according to a recent report from Joe Vardon of The Athletic.
Vardon’s report suggests that the Lakers are “privately a little concerned” about James’ health and intensity, and whether the groin injury previously sustained has fully healed yet. Keeping healthy team-wide will be another big factor in the run in. James, Ball, and Rondo have all missed double-digit games already, as well as Kuzma, Hart, and McGee being plagued by illness/injuries also.
Looking at the teams around the Lakers, many expect the Clippers to decline, given that they moved Tobias Harris onto the 76ers ahead of the trade deadline. In the long run, they look in a strong position but for the now they could very well drop out of the playoff picture. Additionally, the young Sacramento Kings are anticipated to run out of steam in the final stretch. Both teams host tough schedules, like the Lakers, and if the losses are racked up, this could very well assist the purple and gold with their postseason aspirations.
Gaining momentum will be vital for the Lakers’ playoff push, the vets on the team will have to be firing, as well as the young core maintaining consistency. Something that the latter have struggled with all season long. On the positive side however, this season the team have posted victories against the likes of the Warriors, Trail Blazers, Nuggets, Thunder, Clippers, etc. So it can be done, most definitely. Whether it will, remains to be seen.
By Matt Evans (@mattyyyevans)