LeBron James showed up to talk to the media with ice bags wrapped around both knees, his left groin and his back, his mood surly after the Lakers’ disconnected effort in Saturday’s 128-115 loss to a New Orleans Pelicans team playing without Anthony Davis.
When the subject became how the Lakers could lack urgency this late in the season with so much at stake and their playoffs hopes hanging in the balance, James responded with a question of his own.
“How do you know what’s at stake if you’ve never been there?” asked James, who had 27 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds.
Perhaps, the reporter responded, seeing the Lakers drop below .500 (29-30) and fall 3½ games behind in the race for the final playoff spot in the West was enough to know what’s at stake, with 23 regular-season games remaining for the Lakers.
“How do you know if you’ve never been there before?” James responded. “Not you. I’m just saying, like, I’m playing devil’s advocate, you know?
“It’s kind of a fine line when you talk about that because when you’ve never been there or know what it takes to actually shoot for something like that, it’s like you’re afraid to get uncomfortable. So you gotta be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
James has been to the playoffs in each of the last 13 years, and the NBA Finals in each of the last eight. The Lakers have missed the playoffs for five straight seasons, and losses like this one — with the Pelicans resting Davis and playing the second of back-to-back games — make their path to the postseason an even steeper climb.
James was asked if this defeat felt any different from losses to losing teams earlier in the season.
“For me? No,” James responded. “See that’s what I’m talking about ... the last few years, everyone’s so accustomed to the losses. I’m just not accustomed to it. I’m not accustomed to it. I will never get comfortable with losing. So, losing Game 1 to Houston is still the same as losing game 59 in New Orleans to me. It’s just how I’m built. It’s who I am.”
James has young teammates like Brandon Ingram (29 points) and Kyle Kuzma (16 points, eight rebounds, seven assists) who haven’t been to the playoffs. The opportunity in the playoffs is in front of them, but falling behind by 20 points and turning the ball over 23 times went a long way in pushing the Lakers the wrong way.
So did allowing 69 points in the first half.
“We had no sense of urgency,” Kuzma said. “We weren’t together offensively and defensively — well, more so defensively. We got whatever we wanted offensively. We just didn’t bring it.”
And how do the Lakers explain playing with no sense of urgency with so much at stake?
“I have no idea, honestly,” Kuzma said. “We’ve been like that all year. We play a big game against a big team and then play a team that’s lesser and we play down to their level. Our sense of urgency isn’t there. There’s no way we can compete and try to win like that.”
In Davis’ absence, former UCLA star Jrue Holiday led the way with 27 points, seven assists and three steals while Julius Randle scored 24 against his old team.
Coach Alvin Gentry denied playing the Lakers factored into the decision to rest Davis.
“That had nothing to do with it,” he said. “If we were playing the Baltimore Claws, we would sit him out that game too, OK?”