When Anthony Davis suffered a right calf strain on Valentine's Day and was then ruled out for a prolonged duration, it sent the Lakers into a downward spiral even with LeBron James healthy and on the roster.
In the next nine games leading into the All-Star break, the Lakers only managed three wins. Given Davis' talent, the instant impact was expected but nobody was panicking as the team jumped out to a 4-0 start after the All-Star break with wins over Indiana, Golden State, Minnesota, and Charlotte.
But right after that, in the next game against the Atlanta Hawks, James suffered a right high ankle sprain and was ruled out indefinitely. Since that injury, the Lakers have gone 3-6 once again.
If this was early in the season, the Lakers' ability to return to form after these key injuries might not have been questioned as much but now with each loss, the team keeps slipping in the West standings.
They've gone from 21-7, good for second in the West, to 31-19, good for the fifth seed while holding onto a slim lead over sixth. To make matters worse, their buyout acquisition Andre Drummond injured his right toe in his debut.
And making matters even worse is the fact that they have one of the five toughest schedules remaining, and open the month of April with seven games on the road, including five on the East coast. How concerned should we be? Our NBA.com Staff discusses.
Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): It's gotten to the point that I've become fairly concerned about this Lakers team.
Coming into the season, it was clear that the defending champs had retooled their roster to address weaknesses from last year's postseason run that they still managed to overcome in order to win. With an even better roster on paper, it felt like this team was in a great position to defend its title as the second one would be much harder than the first.
Then came the string of bad luck.
The concern on my end comes from the fact that time is now working against this team. Without a clear idea of when Davis and James will return to the lineup, it places question marks surrounding this team's ability to gell once the All-Star duo is reincorporated into the lineup.
To be clear, it's undoubtedly easier to reincorporate that calibre of talent back into the lineup but timing will inevitably be off and the duo could be coming back right when the stakes are at their highest. I have no doubt this team has the talent to figure it out on the fly but the more the team struggles without its stars - and understandably so - the margin of error in the postseason will become slimmer and slimmer.
Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay): I'm not concerned for the Lakers at all.
If they're healthy they're going to be in the Finals.
I actually have more concern and feel sorry for the teams working their tails off to win games on a nightly basis in the Western Conference - to secure a top-end seed, only to potentially see the Lakers as a first-round opponent.
The further the Lakers slip in the standings, the more frustrated I'd be if I were a fan of one of the top four seeds. Will you have to beat the Lakers at some point in the playoffs if you plan on getting to the Finals this year? Yes, but a potential murderer's row of having to go through the Lakers and then any combination of one of the current top four seeds in the West and then whoever comes out of the East to win a title is a lot to ask.
So again, I have faith that a healthy Lakers squad goes to the Finals regardless of their seed this season.
I'm more concerned for whoever has to see them in the first round.
Yash Matange (@yashmatange2694): I know the typical NBA cliches to "never underestimate the heart of a champion" and to "bet against LeBron James at your own cost", but I'm pretty high on the panic meter.
As the team begins their East Coast swing in Tampa, there is 'no return timetable' for either James or AD. It's quite natural to invoke what the Lakers performed last year in the bubble when they won the championship despite not necessarily being the favourite, but the roster this season is very different in terms of experience and playing style.
Unlike last season, when all teams were out of action and the Lakers were probably the most prepared squad going into the Orlando bubble, the same can't be said this season. This time, while James and AD are out, multiple teams are surging and gaining momentum - Denver, Dallas, Phoenix, Utah.
When their stars return, there is still chemistry to be built with the likes of Andre Drummond and their younger supporting cast but their schedule isn't forgiving. Unless either of their All-Star is returning soon, the Lakers aren't far from slipping into seven - which forces them to participate in the play-in tournament.
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