LeBron James Is Unraveling As The Lakers Find Themselves In A Tailspin

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - DECEMBER 15: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts after hitting a three-point basket against the Atlanta Hawks in the second half at State Farm Arena on December 15, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers have lost six of their last seven games, and are in danger of falling out of the top six in the West, which would put them into the first year of the NBA play-in games. 

As opposed to years past, being the seventh seed does not guarantee teams a first-round playoff series. Now, the NBA will hold a play-in tournament in which the seventh and eighth teams will play each other in a one-game playoff and the ninth and tenth teams will also play each other. The winners will advance to the playoffs.  

The winner of the 7-8 matchup will advance to the first round of the playoffs while the loser will host the winner of the 9-10 matchup to determine the final playoff team in the Western Conference and Eastern Conference. 

It’s a position that no one thought the Lakers would find themselves in ahead of the 2021 season, and James isn’t taking it well. 

After a 121-114 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Sunday night, the four-time MVP turned his ire toward the NBA’s play-in tournament. 

“Whoever came up with that s**t needs to be fired,” James told the media after the loss. 

The play-in tournament was agreed upon in the offseason following a negotiation between the NBA and the NBPA (National Basketball Players Association). It’s worth noting that James supported the play-in tournament before the NBA resumed in 2020 following the stop in play due to the pandemic. 

“One thing you can’t just do is go straight to the playoffs, because it discredits the 60-plus games that guys had fighting for that position,” James said according to NBC Sports.

“You got Portland. You got Memphis … New Orleans and Sacramento tinkering around there … so if there’s five or ten games left … why not those guys battle it out? Make them play each other all five games?”

It’s the second time in less than a week where James made headlines. 

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After missing 20 consecutive games with a high ankle sprain — the longest absence of his career — James returned to the floor Friday night in Sacramento. After a four-point loss to the Kings, James seemed dejected when asked about the injury. 

“I know getting back to 100% is impossible. I’ll never get back to 100% in my career,” James said. “But I felt comfortable where I knew I could get on the floor and help my team win.”

It was an unusual moment for James, a player seldom known to show weakness, and one that should be cause for concern for a Lakers organization attempting to repeat as champions.

The implementation of the play-in tournament comes after years of debate, and in a regular season shortened by ten games, adds a level of intrigue the NBA desperately needs. To this point, the season has been a slog, to say the least. The league has been gutted by injuries to star players, and the result has been a level of sloppy play not seen in years past. 

Regardless of James’ feelings toward the new playoff format, he may have no choice but to participate. The Lakers have a brutal schedule to finish the regular season, with games against Denver, Portland, Phoenix, and the Clippers, among others.

To add to the Lakers misery, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski announced Monday that guard Dennis Schroder is expected to miss an “extended period of games” because of the league’s health and safety protocols. It will be the second Covid-related absence this season for the Lakers point guard.

James may want to stop whining and focus on the last eight games, because his pursuit of a fifth title could get a whole lot harder if he doesn’t. 

Joe Morgan is the Sports Reporter for The Daily Wire. Most recently, Morgan covered the Clippers, Lakers and the NBA for Sporting News. 

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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