LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers exit the NBA All-Star break in 10th place in the Western Conference, sitting a full three games behind the Los Angeles Clippers for the eighth and final playoff spot.
Two months ago, the Lakers were in fourth place on Christmas Day when James went down with a groin injury and missed 18 of the next 19 games. LA suffered back-to-back losses to the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks prior to the break, and the Lakers’ chemistry clearly has been affected by the Anthony Davis trade rumors that have been circulating over the last few weeks.
With 25 games left in the regular season, it will be put on James’ shoulders to mend the fractured locker room and carry the Lakers to the playoffs. But is James physically able to shoulder the load like he did last season for the Cleveland Cavaliers? The Lakers reportedly are concerned about the 34-year-old star, according to The Athletic’s Joe Vardon, wondering if James is “fully healed” and if he’s going to “pick up the intensity” to take the Purple and Gold back to the playoffs.
Since returning from his groin injury, James has averaged a triple-double but has looked slower and less aggressive, often deferring to his younger teammates in key situations. Perhaps James is trying to ease his body back into the grind, or perhaps the injury took a toll on his physical conditioning as ESPN’s Brian Windhorst noted when he claimed he’s heard James is playing at a career-high 280 pounds as he was unable to go through his normal conditioning while he was injured.
James and the Lakers looked like one of the best teams in the NBA during the month of December but have bottomed out with James and Lonzo Ball missing time due to injuries. Now they must play their best basketball in order to avoid a massive failure in Year 1 of the James era.
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