NEW ORLEANS – A 128-115 loss to Anthony Davis-less New Orleans Pelicans left LeBron James questioning whether his Los Angeles Lakers teammates have the experience to grasp the challenge at hand and help the franchise qualify for the playoffs for the first time in six years.
"How many know what's at stake if you've never been there?" James asked Saturday after L.A. went down by as many as 20 points to a Pelicans team that was resting Davis and came into the night eight games under .500.
"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, sometimes you're afraid to get uncomfortable.
"So you got to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. So I'm not saying that's what we are as a whole. It's kind of like that at times, that sometimes we're afraid of being uncomfortable and kind of getting out of our comfort zone and kind of, you know, have that sense of urgency from the jump, and not being afraid to actually go out and fail to succeed. So, I mean we have, what? Twenty-three games left.
The Lakers win was a welcome relief after the drama that consumed the team.
Pelicans star Anthony Davis did not play against the Lakers on Saturday, but coach Alvin Gentry said the The decision was not made because the team was playing in Los Angeles.
The loss to New Orleans came the same night Sacramento Kings beat Oklahoma City Thunder, leaving 29-30 Lakers two games behind Kings for the No. 9 spot at the Western Conference and 3½ games behind LA Clippers and San Antonio Spurs, who currently occupy the final two playoffs in the West.
James has made the NBA Finals over the last eight years and the Playoffs over the past 13 years after failing to make the postseason of each of his first two seasons in the league. He has played 239 playoffs in his career. If you add the entire playoff experience of the 11 other Lakers to see the court on Saturday, they've played 289 playoff games combined, with Five of them – Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Moe Wagner and Alex Caruso – having never been there at all.
"The last few years, everyone's so accustomed to the losses that I'm just not accustomed That's what James said. "I'm not accustomed to it. I'll never get comfortable with lost. So, losing the Game 1 to Houston [at home]it feels the same way as losing Game 59 in New Orleans to me. It's just how I'm built That's who I am. "
James' message echoed his sentiments during the first season of his second stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014-15, when he challenged the" bad habits "of teammates Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, who However, James made those comments in November of that season. It's now late february. James admitted that he expected a learning curve with the Lakers.
"I knew it was going to be very challenging," James said. "It was because of the experience the roster had at that point and time. I knew it was going to be challenging from that sense, but I felt like we could still play better basketball. And we did that and obviously it sucks that my injury happened and [Lonzo Ball’s] injury happened and so many of our injuries happened. "
Ball's severe left ankle sprain in mid-January coincided with the Lakers' defense completely disappearing. L.A. According to data compiled by ESPN Stats & Information
Rajon Rondo said that the team's defense is the biggest issue with the face of Lakers, followed by by the need to "play for each other" more often.
"We have no other choice," Rondo said of the defense. "It's either we do or we do not. We do, we make the playoffs and still with that mindset if we do, if we get in playoffs we can easily get swept in four games. So we have to start buying in the "
The Pelicans did exactly that with Davis out, getting big nights out of Jrue Holiday (27 points and 7 assists), former Laker Julius Randle (24 points and 5 assists), Elfrid Payton (14 points and 9 assists) and Cheick Diallo who went 8-for-8 in 19 minutes off the bench, amassing 18 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks. The Lakers helped New Orleans out, of course, by committing 23 turnovers.
Kuzma, who spoke about how much difference James 'defense efforts made in the Lakers' second-half comeback over Houston, might have made another veiled reference "I just think we've got to be consistent," he said. "We've got to be consistent with everything. We've got to be consistent with our body languages, our effort. In a whole, we're just not consistent."
L.A. Will finish its two-game road trip in Memphis on Monday before returning home to host the Pelicans on Wednesday.
"I'm so great on chemistry and camaraderie, and throughout the course of the season with injuries … [they] have felt like it's taken a toll on our team, "James said. "So hopefully we can get Zo back soon to kind of help that out. And hopefully we can start playing a bit better too."