Without LeBron James, the Lakers are looking at an extremely long road ahead.
Every single year, LeBron James should be an MVP candidate. No matter if it's the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, or the Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron-led teams only seem to perform well when he is healthy. If LeBron is out of the lineup, you can forget winning games, and depending on how long the injury lasts for, you can pretty much forget making the playoffs as well. It's the harsh reality of having LeBron on your team, however, when he is in peak form, you can be sure that your team will probably go all the way to the NBA Finals.
The most recent example of this was back during the 2018-19 season where LeBron spent his first campaign with the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite a mediocre supporting cast, LeBron was able to carry the Lakers to fourth place in the Western Conference. On Christmas Day, LeBron went down with a groin injury and it snowballed from there, as the Lakers faltered week in and week out. Eventually, LeBron returned, but it was far too late as the team was out of playoff contention, and for the first time since his days in Cleveland, LeBron would have to miss the postseason. The following year, LeBron was back in shape, and the Lakers went all the way to the NBA Finals and won the championship. This essentially proves just how much LeBron moves the needle, even in his 18th season in the NBA.
Now, let's flash forward to this season, where the Lakers are the defending champs and arguably have a better roster than they did during their championship run. Just a few weeks ago, the team was sitting in second place in the Western Conference standings and seemed poise for yet another deep playoff showing. LeBron James was playing some incredible basketball and while Anthony Davis had a slow start, he was beginning to pick up some steam. Then, disaster struck. Davis went down with an injury to his calf. Some feared it was his Achilles, although it turned out to be a calf strain. Some thought he would be back after the All-Star break, although now, even his own head coach is unsure of his progress, saying "he's still a ways away."
Without Davis in the lineup, the Lakers struggled, although LeBron was still putting up solid performances and squeaking out wins whenever he could. Unfortunately, the Lakers faced another setback last Saturday when LeBron sprained his ankle during a game against the Atlanta Hawks. Now, LeBron is expected to miss between four and six weeks, which means the team will now be without his services for what could prove to be the most crucial time of the regular season. Normally, this would be fine considering Davis is on the roster-- with him out, however, there is absolutely no one the Lakers can fall back on.
Since LeBron's injury, the Lakers have lost four-straight games and have fallen to fourth place in the Western Conference standings. Fourth is nothing to panic over, because it would still mean home-court advantage in the first round of the postseason. Of course, the Lakers have 27 games left to play, and LeBron will be out for the majority of them, all while Davis' status remains up in the air. This puts every single player on the roster in an extremely difficult position. LeBron and AD are both top five players, and now, their teammates will have to somehow compensate for their absence. The Lakers were built around these two guys, and without them on the roster, the Lakers are just ordinary. Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Dennis Schroeder, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are all fine players, but you can't expect them to carry the roster, whether it be offensively or defensively.
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Just by taking a look at the standings, you can clearly see that the Lakers have a solid cushion when it comes to a playoff spot. They are 28-17 while the ninth-place Memphis Grizzlies are 21-20. This means the Lakers are up by a comfortable margin, albeit, this could evaporate very quickly if the Lakers don't snap out of this losing streak. If the purple and gold continue to fall flat when it comes to their performances, and AD takes a lot longer to come back, then the Lakers could be in a very uncomfortable position by the time LeBron returns to the roster. If you're a Lakers fan, you can't help but have a little anxiety over what happened in 2019, and this current predicament feels eerily similar. The main difference is this roster is better-equipped for this incredibly-difficult situation.
If you're the Lakers, you can't get too comfortable. There is always a risk that the teams behind you start to go on winning streaks, and if that happens, then the Lakers could find themselves struggling to stay afloat. No matter what happens, it's clear that LeBron will forever be the league's most valuable player.