It’s tough to pin down exactly which damaging loss definitively extinguished the Lakers’ fragile playoff aspirations.
The season sweep at the hands of the Orlando Magic didn’t help. Getting blown out in DC by the Wizards was pretty rough, as were home losses to the playing-for-next-year Grizzlies, Knicks and Cavaliers. In the past week alone they’d dropped consecutive games to the Grizzlies (again) and Pelicans, before blowing a double-digit third quarter lead at home against the high-flying Bucks. Regardless, at the close of business on March 2, a fairly decisive loss to the league-worst Phoenix Suns in hand, we can decisively declare that the Lakers’ “summer vacation” will begin in April for a sixth consecutive year.
As of Christmas, the Lakers, having thumped the Warriors in their own building, were winning nearly two-thirds of their games, and had a rock-solid stockpile of young talent. The groin injury LeBron James suffered Christmas night not only derailed any hopes of a meaningful playoff push, upending the narrative surrounding the season, but also recalibrated the organization’s plan to build around him.
Gone is the illusion of a slow, patient build, LeBron mentoring the young core into a selling point for superstar acquisitions. In the wake of the struggles in LeBron’s absence – and Anthony Davis’s trade request – any notions of incremental improvement and long-termism have given way to the pursuit of a running mate for LBJ.
It’s unfair to lay the entirety of this flop at LeBron’s feet. Plus, rummaging around for a villain is rarely a rewarding process. It would not have been unreasonable to expect contention from these Lakers this season. However, fans can be forgiven for expecting that this Lakers season would at least be fun. Alas. The Lakers, disjointed alienated and embattled, will, again, spend March shutting the season down, in pursuit of ping pong balls, praying for the next superstar.