LeBron James and the Lakers have a perilous road ahead to qualify for the playoffs

If last week proved anything, it’s that the Los Angeles Lakers will be ready to make some noise come playoff time. As long as a 37-year-old LeBron James can average about 50 points a night. Pretty easy, right?

okay we are most facetious. We’ve seen plenty of instances where James’ brilliance isn’t enough to win games for the Lakers 29-37. That’s especially true on the road, where LA went a dismal 9-21 in 2021-22.

The Lakers enter Sunday with a tenuous hold on a playing spot – a three-game lead with 16 remaining. However, unless LeBron can go out and score 50 points per game, the Violet and Gold will have a serious uphill battle to solidify their place before the end of the season.

LeBron James wears the Lakers as best he can

Even in his 19th season, James is proving why he is one of the greatest basketball players of all time.

Despite only playing 48 games, the King is averaging 29.7 points per game. That puts him in a three-way tie with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid for the league lead. If he won, he would easily be the oldest player in NBA history to win the scoring title, passing 35-year-old Michael Jordan in 1997-98.

But LeBron alone is no longer enough to win.

James has 27 games this year with 30 or more points. Still, LA is only 14-13 in those contests. And that includes his three games over 40, all of Laker’s wins, which means the team has a losing record when LBJ ends somewhere in the 30s.

It also means the Lakers are just 9-12 when James finishes below 30 points and 6-12 in the 18 games he has missed overall.

With Anthony Davis still out for a few more weeks and Russell Westbrook playing far too inconsistently, the Lakers rightfully need James to consistently score well above his season average just to not lose ground in the standings.

LeBron’s heroism might not be enough to save the Lakers from a brutal schedule

Even if LeBron continues to play at a level never seen before at 37, his efforts could still fail through no fault of his own. Indeed, for the final 16 games of the regular season, LA will be tested like never before.

The Lakers received a gift at the start of the season: home games in 12 of their first 15 meetings. So naturally, there would be a time when the Purple and Gold would be forced to take their dysfunctional circus on the road for a long time. Well, the day of judgment has arrived.

Of the remaining 16 Los Angeles contests, 11 will be on the road. Here are all the teams they will visit during this period, listed by current record:

  • 53-14 Phoenix Suns (two games)
  • 46-22 Golden State Warriors
  • 42-25 Utah Jazz
  • 41-26 Dallas Mavericks
  • 40-28 Denver Nuggets
  • 39-30 Minnesota Timberwolves
  • 38-29 Cleveland Cavaliers
  • 37-30 Toronto Raptors
  • 29-37 Wizards of Washington
  • 27-40 New Orleans Pelicans

These are six of the top seven teams in the West, which LA has already beaten 5-8, along with two other playoff contenders in the East. And that’s not even mentioning home games against Toronto, Denver and the 40-25 Philadelphia 76ers that await the struggling Lakers.

The only saving grace might be the fact that the Portland Trail Blazers, the most likely away team to pass LA in the play-off round, have 10 of their last 16 games on the road. However, of their nine road opponents, only the Mavericks and the 34-33 Brooklyn Nets are above .500.

Even if they clinch a play-in spot, the Lakers won’t last long

With James playing as well as he is, missing the play-in round altogether is an unthinkable proposition. It would undoubtedly be one of the biggest failures in modern NBA history.

But even if LA is able to scratch and fight their way to a top-10 seed, don’t expect LeBron to be in contention for his fifth ring for long.

The Lakers trail the LA Clippers by 4.5 games for the eighth seed. Barring a huge turnaround for the Purple and Gold and an epic meltdown for their Crypto.com Arena housemates, LeBron and company will be forced to play a knockout game just to compete for seed eight. Then, if they win this game and take out the Clippers or T-Wolves in another takeaway, that sets them up for a best-of-seven series against the first-place Suns.

Good luck with that one.

Even if Davis manages to get back in time for the playoffs, the Lakers won’t be able to defeat any of the top contenders in the West. For that to happen, LeBron may have to push 60 points a night.

All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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