The Lakers went 6-11 without James, a stretch that dropped them from the Western Conference’s fourth seed to the ninth. Their 123-120 win over the LA Clippers pulled them to within one game of the eighth seed — and with it, a playoff berth — but their slip was still a missed opportunity to get some rest towards the end of the season.
Instead, the Lakers will be fighting for seeding the rest of the way, although James told reporters after the team’s Thursday night win that there is no changing that now (via the Lakers’ official Twitter account):
“It is what it is. You can’t go back and change anything. Obviously we wish we would have played a lot better throughout my absence, but we’ve had a lot of injuries. Our point guard, Zo, got hurt. Then me and Rondo basically got hurt the same game, so he was out quite a bit.
“We all just want to get back into a zone... (and) try to hold the fort until Zo gets back as well. We’ve very good when we’re whole and that’s what’s most important for us.”
James is right that the Lakers have been good when they’ve been relatively whole — i.e. when he’s been in the lineup. The Lakers outscore their opponents by 3.1 points per 100 possessions when James is on the floor, a net rating slightly behind that of the Philadelphia 76ers (3.4), who have the eighth-best net rating in the league.
When James is out of the game, the Lakers’ net rating is -2.7, equal to that of the 23rd-ranked Detroit Pistons.
That’s a massive, massive difference, but it’s also not clear if the Lakers are going to be “whole” again this season, or at least not in the way they have been previously. Their entire roster could be upended by the trade deadline in a deal for Anthony Davis, and while James has said the team itself can’t worry about that, it is at the very least fair to consider the possibility that this Lakers group will never get to show their full potential.
That’s (obviously) a price any team would willingly pay in order to get Davis on their roster, but it’s a reality that needs to be acknowledged.
Whatever the roster looks like in a week, though, James is confident that the Lakers can make up ground and get into the playoffs, because he says he didn’t come to L.A. to not get to participate in the postseason:
“If we play like we did tonight, if continue we get healthy and I continue to get back into a groove, then we’ll put ourselves in a position to compete for a postseason spot, that’s for sure. I mean, that’s what we’re here for. That’s what I’m here for. No one’s here — especially with the Lakers — we’re not here to lose. We want to try and see what we can do.”
Only a game back from playoff contention with the Clippers stumbling ahead of them, the Lakers will likely get that chance, whether it’s James and the young core leading the charge, or James, Davis and Carmelo Anthony battling for the postseason.
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.