"This game hurts. It was a big game. Time is running out on us," Frank Vogel said a few minutes after Sunday's crucial loss against the New Orleans Pelicans.
True to Vogel's words, the Lakers' loss to the Pelicans was disastrous. They were up by as many as 23 points four minutes into the third quarter and had a 93 percent chance of winning the game, according to Inpredict.com, but like what they've done this whole season, they blew the lead and couldn't find ways to score down the stretch.
To make things worst, LeBron James suffered a pretty significant right ankle sprain injury that affected his performance late in the game. He said that he felt a sharp pain running in his leg throughout the game and wouldn't have stayed if it wasn't as important.
But despite James' 39 points, nine rebounds, five assists, and 7-13 three-point shooting in 41 minutes, he couldn't carry Los Angeles to the finish line.
"It's horrible. It's horrible right now. It's pretty sore right now," James, whose ankle was heavily taped and was seen limping post-game, said. I've turned my ankles before. Tonight was just one of those instances," James added.
The four-time champion also said that he has no idea how he finished the game, and after watching the replay of his injury, he claimed that "it was pretty nasty."
Story of the season
Sunday night's costly loss for the Lakers depicted what they've been going through the season. They lead by a wide margin and suddenly blow it because of their opponent's adjustments. The Pelicans did an excellent job taking advantage of the Lakers' poor drop coverage as Brandon Ingram, Jonas Valančiūnas, Herbert Jones, Trey Murphy II, and CJ McCollum combined for a solid 100 point performance.
As soon as the Lakers blow the lead, they couldn't punch back because their best player could no longer provide the same spark as he did at the start of the game. An injury in the most vital moment? Yeah, the Lakers have seen this script before.
"Personally, I lost all explosiveness. I couldn't really get into the lane," James said.
James' injury proved to be a severe misfortune for the purple and gold despite Vogel's strategic move to let the King play off-ball more.
According to Malik Monk, who contributed 23 points and was team-high +7 on Sunday, the ball stopped moving, and the Lakers couldn't get stops on the defensive end.
"He was pushing through it, but I did sense (his limitation)." Vogel said.
In danger of losing a play-in spot
After losing to the Zion-Williamson less Pelicans, the Lakers are standing at the tenth seed of the Western Conference with a record of 31-43. The Pelicans currently have the tie-breaker against them for the ninth seed, while the San Antonio Spurs (who have a record of 30-44) are just one game away from dethroning the Lakers from the 10th seed.
According to Tankathon, the Lakers have the second hardest schedule remaining in the league. Their next few games need to be labeled as must-wins, but at this point, is it worth it?
The Lakers know that this season is a lost cause and that they're taking a risk with James' (and possibly Anthony Davis when he gets back) health if they continue to aim for a hopeless play-in tournament spot. Maybe, it's time to reconsider looking ahead to next season, even how disappointing and uncharacteristic this may seem.
Whether or not the Lakers will tank the remainder of the season is still unknown, but at this point, they also might not have a choice, especially after James' horrible injury.