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LeBron James’ uncertain availability leaves Lakers’ playoff hopes in doubt

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Predictions that the Los Angeles Lakers would miss the playoffs were considered bold midway through the season, when Anthony Davis was recovering from another injury, Russell Westbrook’s inefficiencies were glaring and LeBron James carried too great a burden for a 19-year veteran. that he was about to face a brutal second. -half hour.

It’s all still true, and it’s starting to seem inevitable that the Lakers will miss the playoffs. What’s worse: James suffered an ankle injury that he described as “horrible” in Sunday’s loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. Lakers coach Frank Vogel listed James as a doubt for Tuesday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks.

The Lakers (31-43) may not even make it to the entry tournament. They cling to 10th place in the Western Conference, just one game ahead of the San Antonio Spurs for the final play-in spot. They split their season series, and the Spurs currently own the tiebreaker by way of a superior conference record.

Six of the Lakers’ last eight games are against the top six seeds in the West, and that doesn’t include a rematch against the ninth-seeded Pelicans, who stand to benefit doubly from Los Angeles missing the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Spurs play the Houston Rockets on Monday and will host a two-game series against the Portland Trail Blazers over the weekend. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich would relish the opportunity to knock his longtime rivals out of the postseason, and three wins might be all he needs to do it.

Davis just completed his first practice six weeks after spraining his right midfoot. He has played 10 games since mid-December, when he sprained his left MCL. Even before that, he was performing far below expectations. It’s not known how much Davis can help in the next two weeks, if he can help at all.

James’ 30.1 points per game leads the NBA, and his 37.2 minutes per game ranks third among all players. He is 37 years old and has gone over 40 minutes in five of his last nine games, including 42 minutes in Sunday’s loss to the Pelicans, most of which came after his ankle injury. This is relative to the territory.

The Lakers are net negative in significant minutes whether or not James or Davis have been in the lineup this season. They’re being outscored by 6.6 points per 100 possessions when neither takes the floor, an efficiency level of the bottom six. Force one or both to play the equivalent of playoff basketball for the rest of this season with bad feet, and the Lakers risk injuries that could further limit their chances next year.

The Lakers started Westbrook, Dwight Howard, Austin Reaves, Wenyen Gabriel and Stanley Johnson when James sat out with a left knee injury last week. Reaves is an undrafted rookie. Gabriel and Johnson did not appear on the NBA rosters before Christmas. Howard, the future Hall of Famer, is just a supporting player in his 18th season.

And Westbrook? On only 16 occasions in NBA history has a regular rotating contributor posted a player efficiency rating below 15 and a usage rate above 27 in a single season. Westbrook will join that group. Antoine Walker is the only player to generate that level of high-volume inefficiency for a playoff team (the 2002-03 Boston Celtics). The last thing the Lakers want to do is hand over the keys to Westbrook.

They may not have a choice. DJ Augustin, who signed him on March 1, is the only other available point guard on the list, except for part-time ball handler Malik Monk. There is no one left to trust except James.

Check back soon for more details.

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is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Do you have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

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