By Jalon Dixon, Columnist
Despite the blockbuster signing of forward Lebron James, the MVP candidate-led Los Angeles Lakers are slowly falling off a cliff. After a season of suspensions, injuries and trade rumors, the 2019 iteration of the Lakers is having one of its worse skids of the season at the worst time.
Sitting at 30-33, the Lakers are four and half games back of the eighth seed and are coming off a stretch of losing consecutive games to the top seed Milwaukee Bucks and the lowly Phoenix Suns. Considering their playoff dreams are riding on winning out through one of the league’s toughest schedules post All-Star break, Lakers fans will look at recent losses against the Atlanta Hawks, Anthony Davis-less New Orleans Pelicans, Memphis Grizzlies and now the Phoenix Suns as games that were difference makers.
To make matters worse, ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives the Lakers a 99.1 percent chance to MISS the playoffs. That means despite James being “activated” and young guys like forwards Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma balling over the last few games, ESPN still believes that they do not have enough to get over the hump.
The Lakers are staring at the schedule with discontent as their next five games include an in-state rivalry game against the Los Angeles Clippers and matchups against the second seeded Denver Nuggets, the Boston Celtics and the Toronto Raptors. One could easily say that with this loss to the Suns, dropping any of these games against top-tier talent could lead to the official send off of Lebron and the Lakers.
On the other side town we look at the Clippers, who everyone, including myself, wrote off and thought they were going to start tanking after trading their star player in forward Tobias Harris to Philadelphia. Despite all our assumptions, the Clippers have been playing at a high level and it seems as if they are more focused on reaching the playoffs than retaining their top 10 protected pick. With a record of 35-29, the Clippers significantly are holding off both the Lakers and the Sacramento Kings for that final playoff spot as they have won three of their last four.
As a hard-nosed, gritty team led by the shooting of guard Lou Williams and forward Danilo Gallinari, the physical presence of forward Montrezl Harrell and the elite coaching of Head Coach Doc Rivers, this squad has been able to stay afloat and put the Western Conference on notice. Between their aggressive style of play, ability to shoot the ball and underdog mentality, this is a team capable making some noise in the playoffs, especially if they can overtake the San Antonio Spurs and/or the Utah Jazz for the sixth or seventh seed.
With the expectations heavily weighing on the shoulders of a young head coach in Luke Walton, an even younger core group of players, a few rental players and James in his 16th season, it looks like the pressure may be too much for the Lakers this season. There are less than 20 games left in the season and anything can happen, but as far as I’m concerned the Lakers should start their free agency marketing campaign a little early this year.
Shout out to the Clippers for holding the city of Los Angeles down in the Lakers’ absence wiht the NBA playoffs being officially around the corner.