The Los Angeles Lakers lost their third straight game on Sunday, falling to the Toronto Raptors, 121-114. As a result, they're now in a three-way tie with the Mavericks and Trail Blazers, which puts them in serious jeopardy of winding up in the play-in tournament. And if all that wasn't bad enough, LeBron James left the game early with ankle soreness.
This was just the second game back for LeBron, who had missed over a month with a high ankle sprain. He finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists in 28 minutes, and didn't leave for good until the Lakers were down double digits late in the fourth quarter, so it's safe to assume this was precautionary.
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But while LeBron's ankle might not be a major concern moving forward, the Lakers do have plenty to worry about in regards to their position in the standings. They obviously aren't happy about that, and LeBron made his feelings known loud and clear when speaking to the media.
"Whoever came up with that s--- needs to be fired," LeBron said of the play-in tournament.
Now 36-28 after the loss to the Raptors, the Lakers have the same record as the Mavericks and Trail Blazers. Given how the standings are shaking out, those three teams are going to finish fifth, sixth and seventh in some order, which means one of them will be going to the play-in tournament.
For the moment, the Lakers are in sixth place, owing to the fact that they've lost the season series and the tiebreaker with the Mavericks, but tenuously hold the tiebreaker over the Trail Blazers based on conference record. The Lakers still have one game left with the Blazers, however, and it will determine the season series between the two teams.
Of course, it's unlikely they all end the regular season with the same record, but if the Lakers lose that game against the Blazers they'll have to finish above both teams to avoid dropping to seventh. For now, however, it's not really worth diving into every scenario when there's still eight games left to play.
As for LeBron's feelings on the play-in tournament, he's not the only star in this group of teams to express concerns. Luka Doncic questioned the idea last month, saying "I don't understand the idea... You play 72 games to get in the playoffs, then maybe you lose two in a row and you're out of the playoffs. I don't see the point of that."
While it might sound a bit like sour grapes for these players to be complaining about something once they might be involved, LeBron, to his credit, has been outspoken about the idea for years. Back in 2018, when a play-in tournament was first proposed, LeBron was similarly critical.
"That's wack," LeBron said of the play-in tournament. "You've got to earn your spot to be in the postseason. No consolation for finishing last. That's corny."