LeBron James returned to the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday after a six-week injury absence, but it hasn't magically fixed the Lakers' problems. On Sunday they lost their third game in a row — their second with James back — and have lost seven of their last 10.
Those losses, combined with the 19 losses they racked up while both James and Anthony Davis were out, have taken their toll on the Lakers' position in the standings. They've fallen from second place a few months ago all the way down to sixth in the West, barely above the line for the play-in tournament.
If you think the Lakers' proximity to the play-in tournament would make James friendlier toward the concept, well, you're wrong.
James really doesn't like the play-in tournament
Following Sunday's 121-114 loss to the Toronto Raptors, James was asked about the play-in tournament, which might be the Lakers' only path to the playoffs. He joined Luke Doncic and Mark Cuban in coming out against it, but was a little more pointed about it than either of them were.
LeBron James on the play-in tournament: "Whoever came up with that s— needs to be fired"
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) May 3, 2021
That might seem uncharitable, especially since it may be the only way the Lakers can defend their title, but the thought of having to play at least one more game just to make it into the playoffs probably isn't very attractive.
The play-in tournament comes after a 72-game season (which followed an offseason that was less than three months long) and before what could be a grueling playoffs journey. James isn't a 25-year-old with boundless energy anymore; he's 36 and dealing with a significant ankle injury that needs rest, not more vital games that will decide the Lakers' season.
James still struggling with ankle
James returned from his high-ankle sprain on Friday, but he's not entirely healed yet. He left Sunday's loss to the Raptors with nearly seven minutes left due to ankle soreness. After the game, he told the media that his goal is to get fully healthy, and that how his ankle feels will determine whether he plays against the Denver Nuggets on Monday.
"I definitely want to get healthy. Not only for myself, but for our team," James said via ESPN. "I need to make sure my ankle is where it was before the injury. I've got to be smart with it."
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