Lakers face two harsh realities after LeBron's incredible second half

The Lakers are too reliant on LeBron James, and it will come back to haunt them.
Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James
Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James / Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers appeared destined to finish outside the top eight in the Western Conference for much of the season. They fell to 17-16 on Dec. 30 and did not climb back into eighth until April 5. The Lakers moved up and won their first Play-In game to clinch the seventh seed in the playoffs, but none of that would have been possible without an incredible run from LeBron James.

After the All-Star break, James averaged 27.5 points, which was the fifth-most in the league, 9.5 assists, 7.6 rebounds, and 1.2 steals in 36.0 minutes per game. He shot 58.4 percent from the field and 45.0 percent on his 3-point attempts. The Lakers had a 7.8 net rating with LeBron on the floor and were negative-9.4 when he went to the bench. For context, the Celtics led the NBA in net rating at 11.7, but the Thunder finished second at 7.3.

Relying that heavily on a 39-year-old will catch up to the Lakers, and it could happen in their first-round playoff series against the Nuggets. To make matters worse, the franchise has even bigger long-term concerns.

Reliance on LeBron James will sink the Lakers against the Nuggets

James was not at the top of his game in the Lakers win in New Orleans to open the Play-In Tournament. He missed multiple shots at the rim and made just one of his five 3-point attempts. LeBron’s legs looked a bit heavy, which was likely from carrying the Lakers to that game.

The win sealed a first-round playoff matchup against the defending champion Nuggets. Denver swept LA in the conference finals in 2023 with LeBron playing 42.7 minutes per game and averaging nearly a 28-point triple-double each night.

The Lakers luckily get a few days off. Game 1 is on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. PT, but three days of rest may not be enough for King James. The 39-year-old faces a difficult matchup against Aaron Gordon, and Los Angeles needs him playing at an elite level on both ends of the floor if they will have any chance at pulling the upset.

How much does LeBron have left in the tank? It is a fair question, especially after Tuesday’s performance in New Orleans. The Lakers scrapped out a victory and were plus-11 with LBJ on the floor. They need him, but what about when Father Time catches up to the GOAT?

The Lakers should be worried about the post-LeBron era

They were worse after the All-Star break, but LA had a negative-5.2 net rating with LeBron James on the bench this season. That number would have put them 23rd in the league over the full season with only seven lottery teams below them. The Lakers' 0.6 net rating was the worst among playoff teams.

They are a lottery team without LeBron James, which is scary as he approaches his 40th birthday. King James cannot be elite forever. His 68,252 career minutes, including the playoffs, is already nearly 2,000 more than the second-most in league history. LeBron cannot do this forever, and the Lakers have no answers for when he is no longer wearing the purple and gold.

Anthony Davis is a strong number two. The Los Angeles Lakers have some quality role players, but finding a number one will not be easy. It is fantastic to see LeBron James still playing at an elite level. He remains amazing, but the end is near and the franchise should be dreading that moment. They need more talent if they want any hope of competing, but acquiring it won't be easy.