The return of LeBron James and Anthony Davis from injuries wasn't enough to save the Los Angeles Lakers from their fifth straight loss Friday night as they suffered a critical 114-111 defeat at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans.
L.A. is now three games behind the Pelicans and one game behind the San Antonio Spurs for the final two spots in the Western Conference play-in tournament with five contests left in the regular season, but Davis isn't ready to give up on their chances.
"I think there is a lot of belief," Davis told reporters. "We know what we're playing for. We know the position that we're in. We know we're playing against some top teams. So, I think we have to believe.
"I don't think it's hope. We don't play off hope and 'let's hope we win this game.' We have belief and I believe. ... We got to go out and get it done. It's that simple. We have to win these games, and we have to have that approach."
Davis last played Feb. 16 when he suffered a foot injury during a 106-101 win over the Utah Jazz. The Lakers stood at 27-31 after that triumph. Since that point, they've gone 4-15 and watched their playoff chances shrink by the day.
Both the eight-time All-Star and James, who missed the past two games with an ankle injury, were terrific in their returns to the lineup.
Davis tallied 23 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and a steal in 37 minutes. The four-time NBA MVP recorded 38 points, eight boards, four dimes and a swipe in 40 minutes.
Yet, as has often been the case for the Lakers throughout the season, their dominance wasn't quite enough. The rest of the roster combined to make 18 of their 42 shots from the field (42.9 percent).
"Just feels like you can't catch a break," James said. "No matter what's going on on the floor, it just feels like the ball bounces the other way. The ball doesn't always bounce in our favor. Or a call doesn't go in our favor. It's just like, when it rains, it pours for our year. It's just the way it's been going."
Los Angeles doesn't hold the tiebreaker against either New Orleans or San Antonio, which further lessens its margin for error down the stretch.
For a team that began the season in the championship conversation, it's hard to believe the Lakers could finish outside the top 10 in the West, but that's now a distinct possibility.
There are a lot of different reasons why they've failed to live up to expectations, ranging from James and Davis missing time because of injuries to Russell Westbrook struggling at both ends of the floor, but there will be plenty of time for a postmortem if they miss the playoffs.
The focus for now is trying to avoid that fate. Next up is a clash with the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.