We're nearly at the halfway point of the 2021/22 NBA season; a stretch that has once again been heavily impacted by the players' lack of availability. But according to LeBron James, two teams don't get to use that excuse.
"Everyone besides Golden State and Phoenix"
While discussing the Lakers' five-game losing streak on Saturday, James, otherwise familiar with everything that's going on around the league, singled out the Warriors and Suns as two rosters that haven't been impacted by yet another COVID uptick as well as injuries.
"Nobody's going to feel sorry for you, no one's going to feel sorry for your record, nobody's going to feel sorry for guys out because everybody, besides I think Golden State and Phoenix, everybody has guys out," James said after the Lakers loss to the Brooklyn Nets.
The Purple and Gold are now 16-18 after failing to complete a fourth-quarter comeback on Christmas day despite LeBron's 39-point effort that put him on the top of the NBA's Christmas Day scoring list. After seemingly finding their groove and winning three straight games prior to the losing streak, the Lakers have hit a new low, falling below .500.
LeBron, who up until last week showed nothing but confidence in the roster around him, is visibly frustrated with the team's performance 34 games into the season. That might be the only way to justify his comments after falling to the Nets.
Everyone -- including Golden State and Phoenix
The Warriors did have their two main guys, Steph Curry and Draymond Green, for Christmas matchup against the aforementioned Phoenix Suns -- Golden State ended up winning the game 116-107. But they are far from full strength.
Draymond is the latest Warriors to enter the league's health and safety protocols -- Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole, Damion Lee, and Moses Moody have all missed Saturday's game for the same reason. Andre Iguodala, the team's veteran, was also out with a knee injury. Klay Thompson and James Wiseman are yet to make their 2021/22 season debuts.
The Suns, on the other hand, were nearly at full strength against the Warriors -- Elfrid Payton and Dario Saric were the only significant contributors missing on the roster. But that's not to say last year's NBA Finalist hasn't had injury problems throughout the season.
According to Man-Games Lost, the Orlando Magic players have missed the most games in the league up until December 20th. The Lakers are a far second, with a cumulative quality of players lost being comparable to Phoenix's -- the Suns, however, rank higher in wins. Games-missed-wise, the Warriors are in the upper half of the league, with their second-best player, Klay Thompson, still waiting to make his long-awaited debut after a two-year-long break.
In terms of contenders, the Lakers are the team most affected by injuries and COVID cases. But the reason for their underwhelming performance isn't as one-dimensional; the same way the success of the Warriors and Suns isn't only due to the rest of the league dealing with issues out of their control.
Golden State has the culture. Phoenix has the ultimate leader, playing off momentum from last year's run to the Finals. And the Lakers; they have the oldest roster led by the Big Three that obviously can't function together. And despite his unprecedented performances at nearly 37, they now have the leader growing frustrated with the guys around him.
But instead of pointing fingers internally, he's choosing to discredit the others' success. With everything going on with the Purple and Gold, that might be the final nail in their coffin.