Despite losing six out of the nine games they’ve played without LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers still have a spot in the playoff picture. However, their luck could be running out sooner rather than later.
With a loss to the Utah Jazz on Friday, the Lakers (23-20) are just one game ahead of the ninth seed in the Western Conference. Prior to James’ injury, they were ranked fourth.
With James expected to return no sooner than Wednesday, the pressure is on the Lakers to make up any ground they’ve lost in his absence. The players in the locker room know that, though, and at practice on Saturday, Kyle Kuzma admitted the team has been checking the standings, but is trying to not look ahead too far (via Lakers.com):
“I mean, that’s just how the West is. The West is like that every single year. You can’t look too far ahead, you always try to take it a game at a time, but we all look at the standings. We all know where we are.”
That being said, head coach Luke Walton said that rather than wilting under the extra stress and pressure of competing for a playoff spot, the situation has simply kept the younger members of the Lakers on their toes this year:
“They seem like they like it. They seem like they’re into it, really. They talk about it as a group, where we’re at, what we’re trying to do, and I think for the most part it keeps them sharper than we were at times last year.”
The Lakers will continue to their slow crawl up (or down) the standings on Sunday, when they host the Cleveland Cavaliers for their second matchup of the season. Because the Western Conference race is so tight, it’s important that they take advantage of games against bad teams in the Eastern Conference like the Cavs. Without James, it’s still not a guarantee the Lakers can do so, but if the team that won the prior two games before Friday shows up, the Lakers should be okay against Cleveland.