As the final buzzer sounded on Friday, the Lakers suffered a 111-106 loss to the Nets and were also officially eliminated from postseason contention for the sixth consecutive season. Having signed LeBron James last summer, the Lakers had anticipated returning to the playoff picture this spring.
However, after getting off to a strong start, the Lakers slumped following James’ Christmas Day groin injury and then went just 3-12 since the All-Star break, closing the door on a potential trip to the postseason.
“It’s not what we signed up for. Throughout the year, things happened. Suspensions, injuries, things of that nature,” James told reporters after Friday’s loss. “And just not being able to play sustainable basketball for 48 minutes. But you don’t even try to wrap your head around it, you just keep pushing. Just try to get better tonight, move onto tomorrow, and go from there.”
James’ prolonged absence was not the only obstacle the Lakers faced. Injuries to Lonzo Ball, Rajon Rondo, Brandon Ingram and others contributed to the team’s decline. After Friday’s loss, the Lakers wield a 31-41 record and could finish this season with a worse record than last year’s (35-47).
For head coach Luke Walton, who has seemingly been in the hot seat all season, the message will be to compete. With no playoffs this season and his future uncertain, Walton said it’s the team’s obligation to play strong down the stretch.
“It’s going to be that message every day for the final three weeks,” Walton said. “It’s still about players getting better. It’s still about going out there and respecting the game and giving everything we have to try to win. We owe that, like I said, to ourselves, our teammates, the organization, to the fans.”
As the Lakers prepare for their final 10 games, James — who missed more games than he ever has in a season and is entering his age-35 year — said he plans to play as much as possible, regardless of the team’s standing.
“I’m probably going to have a conversation with the coaching staff and my trainer and go from there,” James said “But I love to hoop. S**t, I’m going to have five months and not play the game. So, you know, hopefully, I can be in as many games as possible.”