Lakers' playoff hopes on life support, Celtics have their own problems
Lakers' playoff hopes on life support, Celtics have their own problems
LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers are now huge underdogs to make the playoffs, while Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics are in a funk out East.
The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics are the most storied franchises in the NBA, and they both came into the 2018-19 season with a lot of hype. The Lakers signed LeBron James away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in the summer, while LeBron's former superstar teammate in Cleveland, Kyrie Irving, was back from a season-ending injury to lead a loaded Celtics squad that looked primed to take over The King's reign of the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, things haven't gone according to plan for each franchise. While the Celtics aren't in danger of missing the playoffs like the Lakers, Brad Stevens' crew has been on a roller-coaster ride all season, with plenty of drama and rumors of Irving's impending exit. Just what has gone wrong? Let's take a look. ### Lakers The Lakers made a big splash by signing LeBron, but the rest of this past offseason featured a host of eyebrow-raising signings, including Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee, Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley. Despite an unproven young core and questions about the roster construction, Los Angeles had a 20-14 record after a 127-101 shellacking of the defending champion Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day. Of course, LeBron hurt his groin that day, and he proceeded to miss 17 consecutive games. The Lakers went 6-11 during that stretch, and things have only gotten worse since. Los Angeles won James' return game against the Los Angeles Clippers and then lost to the Warriors in a game he sat out. He has played in every game after that Warriors loss, but the Lakers are only 3-8 in those 11 games as the defense has tanked and the offense hasn't been able to make up for it. The latest defeat was Monday night's crushing 113-105 loss to the Clippers, which dropped the Lakers to 30-34 on the season and [featured plenty of Patrick Beverley trolling](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ceXKWPl-9wE). This loss also came [on the same day of an ESPN report saying](http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/26134208/lakers-melo-press-pause-deal-talks) the Lakers and Carmelo Anthony had paused negotiations on a contract because of the team's current predicament. With the San Antonio Spurs hanging on against the Denver Nuggets, the Lakers fell 5.5 games behind the Spurs for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. San Antonio holds the tiebreaker by virtue of winning two of the three matchups this season. The Lakers sat as massive -900 favorites to *miss* the playoffs [as of Monday](https://www.betchicago.com/clippers-lakers-betting-lines-odds-trends-lebron-james). After the loss to the Clippers, the Lakers playoff prop has been [taken off the board](https://twitter.com/golfodds/status/1102809023928135680) at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. Injuries have played a major factor in the Lakers' collapse. Besides LeBron's groin injury, Rondo has needed two different hand surgeries, while Lonzo Ball has been out since mid-January with an ankle injury. Brandon Ingram, who has been terrific of late, is now dealing with a shoulder injury, and Kyle Kuzma sprained his ankle against the Clippers. Don't forget about Josh Hart, who's playing through a knee injury. In addition to the injuries, the Anthony Davis saga loomed over the franchise leading up to the trade deadline. There were daily reports about new trade offers featuring seemingly half the team at some points, and there's no way that was good for the locker room. The Lakers have played listless basketball since the deadline passed with no Davis trade, and one has to wonder just how much those very public trade negotiations have played a role in this slide. At least one NBA executive believes they "killed" team chemistry and that LeBron's to blame, [per Bleacher Report's Eric Pincus](https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2822273-he-killed-the-chemistry-lebron-james-isnt-blameless-during-lakers-struggles). With the Lakers' playoff hopes on life support, [some pundits](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oq9AVyLYggc) have floated the idea of LeBron shutting things down. He hasn't looked like his dominant self after returning from the groin injury, and it may be too late for "playoff mode" to be activated. It seemed [unfathomable even at the All-Star break](https://www.betchicago.com/lebron-lakers-second-half-nba-storylines) that LeBron could miss the playoffs for the first time since 2005, but it's looking more and more like a reality. Lakers head coach Luke Walton will likely be a scapegoat for this disappointing season, but Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka will need to make plenty of other changes as LeBron only gets older. While Los Angeles will again try to acquire Davis and/or another star this summer, nothing is guaranteed at this point. If the Lakers strike out on stars, they need to build a coherent roster around LeBron James that can shoot and defend better. ### Celtics The Celtics made it one game shy of the NBA Finals last year despite the absences of Irving and Gordon Hayward in the playoffs, so the assumption was they'd roll through the Eastern Conference this season with those two stars back. Boston's [win total was set at 59.5](https://www.betchicago.com/nba-title-odds-win-totals-bulls-2018), and Irving made headlines by [verbally committing to re-sign](https://twitter.com/NBAonTNT/status/1047988245559222274?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1047988245559222274&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cbssports.com%2Fnba%2Fnews%2Fkyrie-irving-verbally-commits-to-celtics-sets-up-boston-for-potential-half-decade-at-least-of-title-runs%2F) in the summer. Those good vibes are gone now. The Celtics have oscillated between the dominant team many thought they'd be and a dysfunctional mess of talent. After winning 10 of 11 games to move to 35-19 on the season on Feb. 5, Boston has responded with a 3-7 run to fall to 38-26, fifth in the East. The OVER on that win total was officially out of reach after an ugly 126-116 loss to the Chicago Bulls, a team the Celtics had [defeated by 56 points earlier in the season](https://www.betchicago.com/chicago-bulls-terrible-day-dissected). Stevens and the Celtics just haven't been able to figure out how to mesh all the talent together. Hayward has been a shell of himself and has been utterly useless of late. Youngsters Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown haven't taken a leap. Terry Rozier has been bad after his star turn in last year's playoffs. And then there's Irving, who has been at the center of much of the drama. The 26-year-old is having a terrific statistical season, but his leadership has come into question. He hasn't been afraid [to call out the young players](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbtlMfNWDGs), and Stevens [has been a target of his frustrations as well](https://theathletic.com/734469/2018/12/27/inside-pass-voicing-frustrations-leads-to-positive-changes-for-celtics-plus-nba-trade-talk-news-and-notes/). The point guard recently backpedaled from his commitment to the Celtics, and The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor reported Monday that Irving [has become "disengaged and detached from those around the team"](https://www.theringer.com/nba/2019/3/4/18249721/boston-celtics-kyrie-irving-brad-stevens-crisis). Kyrie has also been very outspoken about his dislike for the media, and [it seems like all this drama](https://www.nbcsports.com/boston/celtics/kyrie-irving-explains-shorter-usual-presser-after-rockets-loss) and [attention is overwhelming him](https://twitter.com/Tom_NBA/status/1102680941326188549?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1102680941326188549&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fdeadspin.com%2Fajax%2Finset%2Fiframe%3Fid%3Dtwitter-1102680941326188549%26autosize%3D1). While none of this is promising, not all is lost in Boston. The Celtics have shown the potential of a conference favorite at times, and they still hold the third-best net rating in the NBA thanks to a 10th-ranked offense and fifth-ranked defense, [per NBA.com](https://stats.nba.com/teams/advanced/?sort=NET_RATING&dir=-1). If these guys get hot at the right time, they could make a run at the NBA Finals. As of Tuesday morning at the Westgate, Boston is +325 to win the East and +1600 to win the NBA title, trailing the Milwaukee Bucks (+140, +600) and Toronto Raptors (+200, +800) in the East. The Philadelphia 76ers are priced the same as the Celtics. If the Celtics do falter in the playoffs, though, this summer gets even more interesting. Boston will also try to acquire Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans, but Irving's situation looms over everything. Danny Ainge isn't one to sit tight, so have that popcorn at the ready. __Daily NBA pick 'em contest__: [Play for free](https://betchicago.chalkline.com/games/nba-pick-5)2019-03-05T14:24:44.704Z2019-03-05T09:24-05:00