LeBron James is playing through a sore right knee, something he acknowledged before the All-Star break.
Combine that with the ugly Lakers outing Sunday against the Pelicans where the spirit of the team looked broken — and the fact the Lakers are 0-3 out of the All-Star break and have been down at least 16 in each of those games — and there were rumors and speculation LeBron might just shut it down for the season.
Nope. Not happening, reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN. LeBron’s postgame quotes after the loss to Dallas on Tuesday say the same thing, and express his belief that the Lakers still have a chance in the West.
“We still have games to play,” he said… “Until you stomp me out, cut my head off, bury me 12 feet under, then I got a chance. So that’s my confidence.”
James, who has missed 17 games this season because of various injuries and most recently sat out five games from late January through early February with swelling in his left knee, has no plans to shut his season down at any point, sources close to James told ESPN. James is committed to play out the season, wherever it goes.
Where it goes is going to be the play-in games — and the Lakers need to win some games coming up, despite the toughest schedule remaining in the West, to make sure that happens. The Lakers sit as the No. 9 seed in the West, 4.5 games back of the Clippers ahead of them. The Pelicans and Trail Blazers sit tied for the No. 10 and No. 11 seeds two games behind the Lakers, but while New Orleans is surging, Portland is basically tanking the rest of the season (no Damian Lillard, no Jusuf Nurkic on the court). The No. 12 seed Spurs are a threat but are 3.5 games back of the Lakers with 21 games to play.
If the Lakers can hang on to the No. 9 seed, then win two games to advance out of the play-in, they would almost certainly get the 49-12 Suns in the first round of the playoffs.
That’s part of the reasoning behind the LeBron shutting it down rumors — saying injuries kept them out of the play-in is easier to shrug off than getting there with a relatively healthy LeBron and Anthony Davis, then losing.
None of that not how LeBron and the Lakers envisioned the season playing out.
That also doesn’t mean LeBron’s throwing in the towel on this season with a month to go — he says he still has hope. Which is more than a lot of Lakers fans can say right now.