For 41 minutes of their first game without LeBron James, everything clicked for the Los Angeles Lakers. Kyle Kuzma scored in every way imaginable, Lonzo Ball flew up and down the court and Brandon Ingram showed flashes of a dependable high-usage scorer.
Then came the closing stretch. After leading by 15 with just under seven minutes remaining, the Lakers were outscored 28-12 to end the game with Bogdan Bogdanovic burying the dagger at the buzzer.
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It's been a while since we've seen a LeBron James team play without LeBron James. He did after all play in all 82 games last season, the first time in his career he's gone the distance.
With that in mind, you're forgiven for forgetting that what transpired in Sacramento is what tends to happen when The King doesn't play: his teams lose. A lot.
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The loss to the Kings marked the 12th straight game that his team has lost whenever he's been out of the lineup, a losing streak that dates all the way back to the 2015-16 regular season. The last time his team won a game without him was on March 16, 2016 when the Cavaliers snuck by the Mavericks 99-98 but not before kissing goodbye an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter.
How long ago was that for the franchises involved? Cleveland was still awaiting its first NBA title, Deron Williams started at point guard for the Mavericks and Luka Doncic had just turned 17.
Going beyond merely this recent stretch, how have LeBron's teams done over the course of his entire career? We're glad you asked.
|Season||Team||W-L Without LeBron||W-L With LeBron|
Add it all up and his teams are just 23-49 in games he's missed, a win percentage of .319 that equates to a 26-win pace. Over the last 12 years, the only team that's had a winning recor with him out is the 2012-13 Heat that featured Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, both of whom were still All-Stars.
Time will tell how these young Lakers fare without James whose averages of 27.3 points 8.3 rebounds and 7.1 assists aren't exactly easy to replace. You can make an argument that perhaps no four or five game stretch by any team this season carries a heavier weight.
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If history holds serve and the Lakers youth falters, perhaps we'll come to the consensus that they just aren't yet ready to contend.
But if they respond and hold down the fort convincingly, perhaps the Lakers will be respected not simply as a team yearning for tomorrow, but a team ready to win now.