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    LeBron is closer to a return, but Lakers fans better not keep hopes up

    Jan 27, 2019
    PHOTO: AP
    spin zone

    CHICAGO - After a miserable past 15 games in which the team went 5-10 and fell from fourth place all the way down to ninth place in the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Lakers finally caught a little break on Saturday (Sunday, Manila time).

    LeBron James has participated in contact drills for the first time since suffering a groin strain last December 25 against the Golden State Warriors. And while the King will miss his 16th start on Sunday when Phoenix stops by the Staples Center, the development is encouraging.

    "It was good to see. He looked good. He's still really good at basketball, in case you guys are wondering," head coach Luke Walton told ESPN.

    As a lifelong Laker fan, Walton's statements drive my emotions right in the middle of happiness and depression. My mood can't decide because there's really nothing there but fluff.

    It's a like a candidate in our upcoming Philippine senatorial elections telling reporters: "All the surveys have indicated that I didn't make the Top 20, let alone the Magic 12, but hey at least the Comelec says I'm in the ballot."

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    Which brings me back to the Lakers.

    With a 25-24 record and 33 games to go in their schedule, will they make the playoffs?

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    I've said this before twice and will now repeat it thrice. They're not.

    Based on last year's standings, the ideal number to punch a post-season ticket in the West is 47-35, meaning the Lakers will have to go at least 22-11 the rest of the way to even have a prayer given the stiffness of conference competition.

    Before LeBron went down, the Lake Show wasn't really much of a show - a bumbling, erratic crew that occasionally flirted with greatness but somehow only had a so-so 20-14 slate to show for it.

    So now that James is still in civilian clothing, Lonzo Ball is out for at least another four weeks with a severely sprained ankle, while Kyle Kuzma is battling a sore hip, there simply is no manpower nor logic to support the optimism that a blazing 22-11 finish is marinating.

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    While Walton's boys shouldn't have trouble disposing the comatose 11-40 Suns, the upcoming schedule appears dangerously bleak. They host nasty big man Joel Embiid on Wednesday and then visit the Clippers, who hold the No. 8 seed with a two-game lead over their in-city rivals and Staples Center co-tenants.

    After that, the Lakers will embark on a five-game road trip that include stops in Golden State, Boston, and Philly.

    Lord have mercy.

    Even if, in a fantasy scenario, the Lakers somehow squeeze in the eighth spot, they would likely be wiped out by the No. 1 seeded Warriors.

    I wonder if LeBron and the Lakers would like that indignity. Perhaps, a better choice is to let the King's aging body heal back to 100 percent and then await the coming of Anthony Davis and reinforcements to wage what would be a heck of a run next season.

    PACERS STILL IN. In their first game without Victor Oladipo, who had surgery for a ruptured quad tendon and will be out for the rest of the season, the Indiana Pacers fell to the Memphis Grizzlies, 106-103, at the FedEx Forum.

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    Even without their best player, an All-Star who averaged 18.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists per, Pacers fans don't have to hold their breath when it comes to making the playoffs. They'll get in. Easy.

    Why?

    Because the Pacers have gathered enough hay to buffer the dark days ahead. Last year's standings indicated that 43 wins is the magic number in the East, Right now, the Pacers are 32-16, which means they only need to win 15 of their 34 remaining games.

    TOO HARDEN TO BE IMPRESSED. Well, it looks like James Harden is on a tear of a lifetime, scoring at least 30 points for 22 games in a row now.

    I'm impressed, but the Rocket star doesn't really make me wanna rush and turn on the TV.

    To me, the most important stst in this streak is this - In a five-game span of his incredible run, Harden scored 261 points and zero were assisted on. This means he dribbled and dribbled and shot field goals while four other Houston bystanders were struggling to stay awake.

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    Is that fun to watch?

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    PHOTO: AP
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