The Los Angeles Lakers reportedly have worries that extend beyond their position in the Western Conference standings.
According to Joe Vardon of The Athletic, the team is "privately a little concerned" about LeBron James' health and intensity. They apparently have lingering questions about whether the groin strain he suffered during a Christmas Day win over the Golden State Warriors is fully healed and whether he will "pick up his intensity and propel this team back into the playoffs."
James addressed his mindset following Sunday's All-Star Game and said he is solely focused on reaching the playoffs.
"Looking forward to the second half of the season," James said, per Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times. "Looking forward to seeing what we can do to get back in this playoff race. That's my only mindset. That's the only thing that's going to happen in my mental space for these next two months, pretty much on how I can get this team playing the type of level of basketball we were playing before my injury."
The Lakers were fourth in the Western Conference prior to his injury, but they have plummeted to 10th place and are three games behind the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers. They are also four games behind the seventh-seeded San Antonio Spurs, which is relevant if they hope to avoid a first-round matchup with the mighty Warriors.
When healthy, James has performed like one of the best players in the league. He is averaging 26.8 points, 8.6 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game, right in line with his career marks.
However, the Lakers went a dismal 6-11 from Dec. 27 through Jan. 29 when he was out and clearly missed his presence on the court. Things won't get much easier following the All-Star break, either. L.A. has the fourth-hardest remaining schedule in the Western Conference, according to Tankathon.
Los Angeles' struggles when James wasn't on the court underscore how serious a lingering groin injury would be for the team's postseason chances. The all-time great is coming off eight straight trips to the NBA Finals.
There are few safer bets in sports than whether James will perform at a high level when healthy, which makes the Lakers a threat to the rest of the West if they do reach the postseason.