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COLUMN: LeBron James has been in this spot before



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Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James directs his team against the Atlanta Hawks on Feb. 12 at Philips Arena.  Tribune News Service

As LeBron James continues his 16th season in the NBA, he finds himself in a once familiar territory.

For the first time since the 2004-05 season, there is a legitimate possibility of James missing the playoffs. That was a very different time for James, not to mention a very different era of the league. The Cleveland Cavaliers — who drafted James in 2003 with the No. 1 overall pick—finished the season 42-40, missing the playoffs for the seventh straight year.

Fast forward to the 2018-19 season, and James is in a different conference, wearing the iconic Los Angeles Lakers' purple and gold and in nearly the same situation. 

With 22 games remaining in the regular season, the race for the playoffs is well underway. The Lakers are 29-31 as of Feb. 26 and sit three games back of the San Antonio Spurs, who currently have the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. 

Much like the team he inherited after being chosen by the Cavaliers in 2003, James has had to work from the ground up to get a team to the playoffs in the midst of a postseason drought. The last time the Lakers competed in a playoff series was in 2013, when Kobe Bryant was still on the Lakers' active roster.

While James was only in his second season the last time he failed to advance to the postseason, he is now 34 years old. James' age has shown this season, with a nagging groin injury preventing him from playing in 17 consecutive games earlier this season, his longest stretch sidelined since his middle school days. 

Before the injury, the Lakers were 20-14 and had placed themselves among the top-eight teams in the Western Conference. With James inactive the Lakers went 6-11, and they have gone 3-6 since his return, falling to the 11th spot in the conference standings.

Much of this has to do with the Anthony Davis disaster that took place before the Feb. 7 trade deadline, creating a rift in the team's chemistry. 

After James became publicly vocal about his desire for his team to trade for Davis, Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka put seemingly every player beside James on the trading block. With the Pelicans unwilling to make any trades, the Lakers were forced to continue playing with the knowledge that every player except James was expendable.

This led to a snowball effect, with the motivation on the team at an all-time low. After yet another loss, this time to a Pelicans team on the road with Davis on the bench, James told the media the rest of his team looks “afraid to be uncomfortable.” 

With the Lakers currently on a two-game losing streak and the playoffs falling quickly out of reach, it seems James himself is in the most uncomfortable position he has been in a long time.

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