When LeBron James signed with the Lakers over the summer, the immediate assumption was that the team would finally make the postseason again. The franchise had missed the playoffs in each of the previous five seasons and the last time they did make it (2012-13), they were bounced in the first round. Considering that the team had just added arguably the best player in the league, making the playoffs seemed like a safe bet.
Well, that is no longer the case. Following the All-Star Break, the team sits a game below .500 and in 10th place in the Western Conference, three games back of the crosstown Clippers for the eighth and final playoff spot. FiveThirtyEight’s projections give the team just a 25 percent probability of making it to the postseason. And, of the 25 games that the Lakers have left on their schedule, 16 are against teams currently ahead of them in the standings in the West or in the overall playoff picture (including the East).
None of that bodes particularly well for a team that still has a lot of young players figuring out their fit and roles next to James. Add in the drama of the trade deadline and how that may have affected the psyche of the young players who were constantly being named in trade rumors and it looks more likely than not that the team will miss the playoffs.
If they do, the playoff drought for the franchise obviously extends into the back half of a decade. But, missing the playoffs would also end several personal streaks for LeBron himself.
See, James has made the playoffs in each of the last 13 years, missing it only in his sophomore and rookie seasons in the league. In addition, James has been to eight straight Finals dating back to his years in Miami with the Heat. That streak was going to be in jeopardy regardless with his move out West as the team would have had to beat the Warriors in all likelihood to make the Finals, but still, it would be the end of an era of dominance for James’ teams.
Now, it is certainly possible that the Lakers do seize on that 25 percent probability and jump both the Kings and Clippers to make the postseason. But, if they do so, there’s a different streak that would likely end. If they were to finish as the eighth seed, the Lakers would be facing a first round matchup with the Warriors, who would be heavily favored. James has never lost in the first round of the playoffs in any of his 13 appearances to date, but that streak would be severely tested by the team that has beaten him in the Finals three of the last four seasons.
Now, James did miss 18 games while recovering from a groin injury, which certainly has not helped their chances. But, the Lakers have been awful without him on the floor just generally. In terms of on/off court numbers, the Lakers net rating is -5.1 when James isn’t on the floor and is +2.5 with him on it. That is the difference between being the Hawks or Grizzlies (-6.8 and -3.0) and the Trailblazers or Rockets (+3 and +2.1).