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CHANCES OF THE PLAYOFFS NOT GREAT

The news isn’t getting much better in Laker Land, especially the dire playoff pictures.

LeBron James and a bunch of players along for the ride, will again suit up and get back to work on Thursday with a home game against the Houston Rockets.

The playoff picture is now a gauntlet of 25 more games to make up the three games they are behind the L.A. Clippers for the eighth and final playoff spot. As far as the numbers are concerned, things could look better.

AND WHA’S UP WITH LONZO BALL?

Lonzo Ball is far from the consummate veteran who can be counted upon to run the offense consistently and stop star guards nightly. But darn it if he wasn’t showing promise in both regards.

The Lakers will mount a charge for the playoffs without their budding guard who continues to nurse his ankle injury, a sprain that could have him out until early March.

The Lakers have enjoyed a 118.1 defensive rating (Rank: No. 26) during the 10 games he’s been out. So, really, an early March return would coincide nicely with a Lakers eulogy.

The Lakers hobbled into the break like a bloodied boxer looking for his corner. A blowout loss to the 76ers and a pitiful follow-up to the lowly Hawks didn’t help their standing with oddsmakers.

The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, according to ESPN, now has the Lakers as underdogs to actually make the postseason.

PICK YOUR REASON

The Lakers really should have taken care of business and entered the break at above .500. An emotional win over the Celtics was nice and all, but the sting of a painful trade deadline again boiled over as the Lakers dropped their last two games—one by 23 and the other by four points, both equally messed up news.

Two things should sound familiar with Lakers fans, one more concerning than the other. First, it seems Anthony Davis isn’t so down on the prospect of playing with the Celtics as we thought.

It has been rumored that Davis intimated that Boston was most certainly in play for his services: “I never said Boston wasn’t on my list.” There’s also some additional troubling rumors.

The Lakers are privately a little concerned about LeBron. Is he fully healed from the groin strain that cost him a career-worst 18 games? Is he going to pick up his intensity and propel this team back into the playoffs, as he did last year in Cleveland? James, now 34, is actually averaging a triple double for the Lakers since his return from injury (23.2 points, 10.8 rebounds, 11.0 assists), but he’s just not moving at the same speed nor is he engaging at the point of attack.

For his part, James swatted away any thoughts of his slowing down, “I feel great,” the 34-year-old said. James continued.

Looking forward to seeing what we can do to get back in this playoff race. That’s my only mindset. That’s the only thing that’s going to happen in my mental space for these next two months, pretty much on how I can get this team playing the type of level of basketball we were playing before my injury.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst and fellow colleagues wondered out loud on the subject of LeBron’s weight. Windhorst, speaking on his podcast, explained that James likes to build momentum physically through a season so that he can peak at the end. The injury derailed that strategy and, as Windhorst states, “the word on the street is LeBron is 280 right now.”

That would be a 30 more pounds over his listed weight of 250. If true, it would explain some of the sluggishness he has suffered upon his return. NBA trainer Travelle Gaines, via Hoops Hype, doubted that figure and estimated James, who missed several weeks thanks to his injury, was closer to 260.

And, as Vardon reminds, James is still posting excellent numbers and is a walking triple-double machine.If the LakeShow is going to make the post-season, they are going to need the classic Best Player On The Planet version of King James. Anything less would exacerbate this squad’s shortcomings, sending LeBron to an early wine tasting tour of an offseason.

There are now two possibilities. Either James is still getting back into shape after a lengthy stint on the sidelines. In which case, it’s possible that he comes back rejuvenated this Thursday.

The other option is that James has already started to lose a step.