Now that the Los Angeles Lakers are firmly in play-in tournament territory with a 36-28 record, LeBron James is bluntly voicing his opposition to the concept.
“Whoever came up with that shit needs to be fired,” said James on Sunday. “But, whatever.”
Following the Lakers’ uninspired 121-114 loss to the Toronto Raptors (27-38) at Staples Center—their third straight L and sixth in seven games—they moved into a three-way tie with the Dallas Mavericks and the Portland Trail Blazers (both 36-28) for the fifth to seventh seeds in the Western Conference.
The Mavericks own the tiebreaker over the Lakers after defeating them twice in a row last week, while the Purple and Gold and the Trail Blazers split the first two games of their season series and will face off on Friday. It will be the second leg of one of four back-to-backs across the final 10 games for the Lakers.
The defending champions have fallen a long way in a short period of time. Last month, Markieff Morris refused to even entertain the notion of participating in the play-in tournament.
“We’re not worried about the play-in, like at all,” said Morris after their win over the Utah Jazz last April 18. “I don’t even know what the date is for that, so if it’s next month, that won’t involve us.”
Three weeks later, after an abysmal loss to the Washington Wizards on Wednesday, Lakers big man Anthony Davis delivered a stern warning regarding their slippage in the team standings.
“We control our own destiny. We have to start playing with a sense of desperation,” said Davis. “Even though we are in the playoffs as of right now, we’re not that far up from being in the play-in game. So we gotta play with a sense of desperation.”
LeBron and company are mired in a late-season slump at the worst possible time. They’ve dropped five of six outings since Davis returned and are 0-2 since The King rejoined the lineup. LeBron left Sunday’s loss with about seven minutes remaining due to ankle soreness and did not return.
The four-time MVP had 19 points, seven rebounds, and six assists in 28 minutes before exiting, hitting 6-0f-11 from the field. However, his floor game was far from crisp, and he was forced to handle the ball more than anticipated due to Dennis Schroder’s absence due to COVID-19 protocols. LeBron finished with five turnovers, a -4 for the night, and put forth one of his worst defensive performances for the Lakers.
Anthony Davis: “It's the lowest we’ve been in a while, at least in the past two years … It really can’t get any lower than this … It just feels like it’s always something with us.”
Like LeBron, AD dejectedly mentioned the last-minute loss of Dennis Schroder tonight
— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) May 3, 2021
LeBron’s sentiments echo those of Mavericks star Luka Doncic and owner Mark Cuban, who both leveled criticisms at the play-in tournament last month. After losing to the Philadelphia 76ers, Doncic said he doesn’t understand the concept.
“You play 72 games to get into the playoffs, then maybe you lose two in a row and you’re out of the playoffs. So I don’t see the point of that.”
LeBron and Cuban have an ironic commonality in their opposition, too: Both initially supported the play-in tournament idea. Cuban voted in favor of its implementation and clarified that he supports it in a non-COVID-altered season.
In March 2020, LeBron also advocated for a play-in tournament to determine the no. 8 seeds—though not no. 7.
Beginning with a Monday matchup versus the Denver Nuggets, the Lakers will be forced to navigate their ongoing chemistry issues, the rustiness of their stars, the absence of Schroder, and their precarious place in the team standings through five straight games against contender teams.
“It doesn’t matter at the end of the day, if I’m not close to 100 percent, it doesn’t matter where we land,” pointed out LeBron James.