LOS ANGELES — As aggressive because the LeBron James-less Lakers regarded in Wednesday’s 126-121 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, the defeat solely raised the stakes for his or her subsequent recreation on the schedule, on the highway Sunday towards the New Orleans Pelicans.
L.A. is presently No. 9 within the Western Convention standings with 9 video games left to play, and the Pelicans are scorching on their tail, only a half-game behind at No. 10.
Sunday’s recreation may fortify the Lakers’ lead, serving to their path towards internet hosting the Pelicans within the 9-10 play-in recreation. Or, it may make the Lakers the crew that is enjoying from behind, desperately making an attempt to cling onto the ultimate play-in spot simply to be rewarded with occurring the highway to play it.
“It will be a playoff-type of ambiance for us as a result of it is positively a must-win, I imagine, for our group,” mentioned Russell Westbrook, who had 24 factors, 9 rebounds, eight assists and 7 turnovers in James’ absence towards the Sixers.
James, who was held out Wednesday due to soreness in his left knee, can have a possibility for six days of relaxation main into the New Orleans recreation.
If he feels wholesome sufficient, he’ll be in there, and L.A. will attempt to sustain the modicum of momentum it has been capable of generate, going 2-2 over its previous 4 video games. The Lakers have discovered an offensive groove in these 4 video games, meting out 25 assists or extra in all of them.
“We’re making progress,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel mentioned. “We’re constructing habits which might be going to win for us within the postseason. And, we’re persevering with to develop. I believe this recreation, we’re upset we misplaced. However with out Bron, with out [Anthony Davis], the group that performed tonight confirmed everybody that we nonetheless have a complete lot of struggle left in us.”
The final time L.A. performed New Orleans, with James within the lineup, the Pelicans blew the Lakers out by 28. It was a part of L.A.’s publish All-Star break hunch, when it went 2-9 — with 4 of these losses coming by 20 factors or extra — and struggled to search out any type of footing.
“I am by no means going to surrender,” mentioned Dwight Howard, whose 24 factors on Wednesday marked essentially the most he has scored in a recreation since Nov. 16, 2018. “I do not assume any of us feels just like the season is simply over with. We’ll do no matter we are able to to make it. It isn’t been the season that we have all wished. It took us an actual very long time to actually jell, however there’s nothing we are able to do now however simply keep optimistic, maintain preventing.”
In fact, a loss to New Orleans would put L.A. nearer to falling out of the play-in event fully. The Lakers are simply two video games up on No. 11 San Antonio after the Spurs beat the Portland Trail Blazers 133-96 on Wednesday. The Spurs have two extra video games remaining on their schedule towards the Blazers, too.
And so it is going to be an prolonged play-in, in essence, to get to the true play-in event for this Lakers crew.
“Hopefully our group’s collective playoff expertise will repay for us,” Vogel mentioned of the duty forward.