Lakers limp into town with playoff goal just about gone

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James, front, is pressured by Boston Celtics' Kyrie Irving during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, March 9, 2019, in Los Angeles. The Celtics won 120-107.

    Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James, front, is pressured by Boston Celtics' Kyrie Irving during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, March 9, 2019, in Los Angeles. The Celtics won 120-107.

 
 
Updated 3/11/2019 9:46 PM

It was obvious last summer the Los Angeles Lakers were planning for the future when they signed a bunch of guys to one-year contracts, such as ex-Bull Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Michael Beasley, who was let go.

But it is a little jarring for LeBron James to go from eight straight trips to the NBA Finals with Miami and Cleveland to missing the playoffs completely.

 

It would take a literal miracle for the Lakers to reach the playoffs, since they were 7½ games behind the Clippers for the eighth spot in the West as of Monday morning. Two key players, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, are not expected back from injuries.

"Yeah, I think everybody is (surprised)," Zach LaVine said Monday at the Advocate Center. "It's tough in this situation, especially with all the injuries they had. I'm not going to doubt them moving on in the future, especially with that guy leading them. This might be a one-time thing."

The Lakers visit the United Center on Tuesday riding a five-game losing streak. When the Bulls lost to the Lakers 107-100 at the Staples Center on Jan. 15, James was out with a groin strain, but Ingram, Ball and Kyle Kuzma all played. That was the last game for Bulls rookie Wendell Carter Jr., who suffered a torn ligament in his thumb that night.

LaVine on facing LeBron:

Zach LaVine is unlikely to play Tuesday because of soreness in his knee, but he talked about what it has been like to play against LeBron James.

"He's the best still, in my opinion," LaVine said. "He's just a stat breaker. He's having a career year almost right now, just in the way he's scoring the ball and his rebounds and assists. His percentages are still the same. Dude is a freak. What is LeBron, 34? He dunks on the same amount of people still. He's shooting the 3 ball way better. He pulls up from like 35 feet every other game. He's a freak of nature."

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James is averaging 27.1 points, 8.6 rebounds and 8.1 assists this season. The assists are a career high, and his numbers compare well to some of his MVP seasons. The feeling around the league is the Lakers are hoping to sign Kevin Durant, trade for Anthony Davis, or possibly both this summer.

"The first couple times I (was star-struck (against James)," LaVine said. "You're like, yo, it's LeBron. You see how big he is. He's as big as your center. He's 6-8, like 275. It's a little different. After that, you start to get to your competitive nature and you try to beat him.

"You like playing against those dudes because it's competition, especially he's probably the best player of our generation. As competitive people, you like going at him."

No room for rest:

The Bulls will play their 11th game in 19 days since the all-star break Tuesday. Coach Jim Boylen admitted the schedule has been a grind.

"I don't know how you guys feel, I just feel like we've been playing a lot of games," Boylen said Monday. "It's just kind of a strange. I've been in the league a long time, I've been a part of it, it just seems like we're playing a game every day."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Sunday's early start in Detroit was unusual. Taking into account the time-zone switch and the start of daylight saving time, it was the equivalent of a 10 a.m. start for the Bulls.

"I woke up and was like, 'Wait a minute now,' " Boylen said. "That's what it is and we'll just keep working at it. I told the team today that we have such a good group of guys and they kind of hang on everything we say and they try to do what we ask them to do.

"That makes this a lot more fun, even when you lose a game. So it's been good."

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