Top Takeaways from Anthony Davis, Lakers' Loss vs. Jokic, Nuggets Without LeBron
Two weeks ago, the Los Angeles Lakers notched a road victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers, improving to 31-41 on March 21. There was still time to make a push into the playoffs. They still had a strong chance of at least reaching the play-in tournament. However, it wasn't actually a sign things were improving in Los Angeles.
Since then, the Lakers have yet to record another win. Their losing streak has now reached six games after a 129-118 home defeat against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday. That has Los Angeles at 31-47, two games back of the San Antonio Spurs for the No. 10 seed and final play-in tourney berth in the Western Conference.
LeBron James didn't suit up for the Lakers in their most recent loss, sitting out because of his lingering ankle injury. Anthony Davis (28 points, nine rebounds and eight assists) and Russell Westbrook (27 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists) each had strong showings. But it wasn't enough for Los Angeles to top Denver, which was powered by a stellar showing from Nikola Jokic (38 points, 18 rebounds and six assists).
Here are some key takeaways from the Lakers' latest defeat.
The Lakers Likely Need to Win Out to Have a Chance
Time is running out for the Lakers if they hope to extend their season beyond this upcoming Sunday. They have four games to go, and they need to somehow pass either the Pelicans or the Spurs in the standings. San Antonio has a magic number of two to clinch, because it owns a potential tiebreaker over Los Angeles. New Orleans is currently one game ahead of San Antonio.
For the Lakers to have a realistic chance of making the play-in tournament, they're likely going to need to win each of their final four games. That alone won't be enough, but there's at least a possibility that either the Pelicans or Spurs struggle enough to fall down the standings.
Los Angeles' final stretch isn't an easy one. It has a home matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday, but its other three games are road matchups against strong teams: the Phoenix Suns (on Tuesday), the Golden State Warriors (on Thursday) and the Nuggets (on Sunday).
"My job is to be on the floor and help these guys win, and I think our spirit is very high in the locker room and we're going to continue to fight," Davis said in Sunday's postgame press conference.
Los Angeles hasn't won consecutive games since a four-game winning streak from Dec. 31-Jan. 7. So it will need to have its best stretch in three months if it hopes to be playing in the play-in tournament later in April.
It's still possible the Lakers can do it, as they have yet to be mathematically eliminated from contention. But they're going to have to play much better than they have been of late. And they'll need to hope that either the Spurs or Pelicans gives them the necessary help.
This Is Uncharted Territory for a LeBron Team
If the Lakers don't somehow find a way to extend their season, James won't be in action in late April, May or June. And that's going to be an unusual sight. The 37-year-old has routinely guided his teams to the playoffs over his 19 seasons, as he's made 15 trips to the postseason in his career.
It's also different to see a James-led team fare this poorly. According to ESPN Stats & Info, this is the first time in James' career that he's been on a squad that is 16 games under .500.
When James has been healthy, he's done his best to try to power the Lakers to success. He's averaging an NBA-high 30.3 points per game in 56 contests. He's also tallied more than 30 points in nine of his past 11 games, which includes a pair with 50 or more points.
But now James is again being slowed by his ankle, as he's missed four of Los Angeles' past six games. He, Davis and Westbrook could be a formidable trio, but the three stars haven't been on the court together enough this season due to various injuries.
"I think the biggest thing that I think about personally is what we could have been, had we stayed healthy all year," Davis told reporters after Sunday's loss.
Maybe the Lakers will find that out during the 2022-23 season, if their Big Three are still together at that point. James still has one more year on his contract, so he'll be back. And he could be looking to bounce back from what may go down as the worst season for any of his teams during his legendary career.