Wednesday, May 25, 2022

LeBron James questionable Sunday vs. Pelicans due to knee soreness as Lakers try to hold on to play-in spot

The Los Angeles Lakers will be in the Big Easy on Sunday for an important matchup with the New Orleans Pelicans, but they may be without their best player. LeBron James is questionable due to persistent knee soreness which kept him out of the Lakers’ loss to the Philadelphia 76ers earlier this week. 

Injuries have been the story of the season for the Lakers, and the issue isn’t going away as they head down the final stretch. They’re also still without Anthony Davis, who has not played since Feb. 16 due to a foot sprain. With LeBron and Davis limited to just 21 games together this season, the Lakers have understandably struggled.

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Things have been particularly bleak since the All-Star break. The Lakers are 4-11 since play resumed, and are suddenly in a somewhat precarious position to even make the play-in tournament. That was unthinkable heading into the season, but with just a few weeks remaining they are in ninth place in the Western Conference — 0.5 games ahead of the 10th-place Pelicans and 1.5 games ahead of the 11th-place San Antonio Spurs

That makes Sunday’s contest vital, and if LeBron does not play the Lakers could be in big trouble. They are just 6-13 with LeBron out of the lineup this season, and if that trend continues with a loss to the Pelicans they would drop into 10th place and have just a one-game lead on the idle Spurs, who have won three in a row. 

The looming possibility of missing the playoffs altogether is no longer something the Lakers can ignore. Speaking to reporters earlier this week, head coach Frank Vogel called on his team to build good habits and approach these final games with the right motivation. 

“The bigger motivator for us down the stretch, for us for the final nine games is, how are we playing?” Vogel said. “Are we playing winning basketball? And are we improving our habits well enough to win? Whether it’s the play-in game, or if we’re able to get through the play-in games, to win in the first round. The habits are the biggest motivator, and there’s been some really encouraging signs with how we’ve played.”

Of course, it would help to have LeBron in the lineup. He’s currently leading the league in scoring at 30 points per game, and on pace to become the oldest scoring champion in league history. Whether he can keep up that pace and carry the Lakers to the play-in tournament given the state of his knee, however, remains to be seen. 

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