One of LeBron James' go-to lines is, "Just get me to the playoffs."
A 128-115 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, playing without a resting Anthony Davis on Saturday night, only increases the chances James won't be able to use that trademark sentence on his Los Angeles Lakers teammates.
The loss to the Pelicans, who came in eight games below the .500 mark, leaves Los Angeles (29-30) two games behind the ninth-place Sacramento Kings and 3.5 games behind the Los Angeles Clippers and the San Antonio Spurs, who are tied for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
"How many know what's at stake if you've never been there?" James asked about the Lakers, who have not made the playoffs in six years.
"I'm playing devil's advocate, you know?" he told reporters. "It's kind of a fine line when you talk about that, because when you've never been there or know what it takes to actually shoot for something like that, sometimes you're afraid to get uncomfortable.
"So you got to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. So I'm not saying that's what we are as a whole. It kind of looks that way at times, that sometimes we're afraid to be uncomfortable and kind of get out of our comfort zone and kind of, you know, have that sense of urgency from the jump, and not be afraid to actually go out and fail to succeed. So, I mean we have, what? Twenty-three games left. We'll see what happens."
James' teams have reached the playoffs 13 consecutive seasons and he has played in eight straight NBA Finals. The loss at New Orleans came two nights after the Lakers recorded an impressive win over the Houston Rockets on Thursday night, something that was not lost on James.
"The last few years, everyone's so accustomed to the losses that I'm just not accustomed to," James said. "I'm not accustomed to it. I will never get comfortable with losing. So, losing Game 1 to Houston [at home], it feels the same way as losing Game 59 in New Orleans to me. It's just how I'm built. That's who I am."
James, who has played in 239 playoff games in his NBA career, admits he did not expect the Lakers' early season struggles to still be prevalent this late in the season.
"I knew it was going to be very challenging," James said. "Just because of the experience the roster had at that point and time. I knew it was going to be challenging from that sense, but I felt like we could still play better basketball.
"And we were doing that and obviously it sucks that my injury happened and [Lonzo Ball's] injury happened and so many of our injuries happened."
Los Angeles will wrap its two-game road trip Monday night in Memphis before hosting the Pelicans on Wednesday night at Staples Center.
James again played the injury card as he looked ahead to the Lakers' final 23 games of the regular season.
"I'm so huge on chemistry and camaraderie, and throughout the course of the season with injuries ... [they] have felt like it's taken a toll on our team," he said. "So hopefully, we can get Zo back soon to kind of help that out. And hopefully, we can start playing a little bit better, too."