The Los Angeles Lakers' eventual 136-94 drubbing at the hands of the Pacers ended up being the worst loss of James' 16-year NBA career. And the optics of seeing the four-time MVP parked in the final spot on the sideline with three empty seats between him and Brandon Ingram might have been even worse, illustrating how far away this team seems from the contenders James is accustomed to being a part of.
The Lakers already beat Indiana this season -- a 104-96 decision on Nov. 29 in Los Angeles -- when the Pacers were missing Victor Oladipo. But with Oladipo now out for the season -- and Indiana going 2-4 since the All-Star guard's injury and playing on the second night of a back-to-back -- the Pacers got their revenge and then some.
The Lakers are now 7-13 in their past 20 games -- playing 18 of those without James as he dealt with a left groin strain -- free-falling from fourth place to 10th in the Western Conference standings since Christmas Day.
And with just two days left before Thursday's NBA trade deadline, the team's cohesion stands at an even more tenuous position than its 27-27 record.
Following a loss at the Golden State Warriors over the weekend -- a game in which L.A. held a double-digit second-half lead before getting blown out -- Lakers coach Luke Walton and veterans JaVale McGee and Michael Beasley got into a verbal sparring match in the locker room, according to sources.
But that turned out to be better than Tuesday's performance, in which the Lakers didn't show any fight, trailing by as many as 46 points and never holding a lead.
Meanwhile, the Lakers' brass has been entrenched in serious trade talks with the New Orleans Pelicans surrounding their star center, Anthony Davis; and just about every player on the Lakers' roster has heard his name attached to a potential deal for Davis.
"The only players whose play hasn't been affected by the trade talks are James and Rajon Rondo," a team source told ESPN on Tuesday.
Walton tried to steer his team's focus away from the speculation before the Pacers game, saying, "This is a big game for us. Our guys are locked in. They know that this is the only thing that matters right now is the game we're getting ready to play."
But the crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse offered a loud reminder of what's at stake this week, chanting "LeBron's gonna trade you!" at various times when Ingram, McGee and Kyle Kuzma were shooting free throws.
"I heard it," Ingram said. "I still made the free throws. I've been through and I've heard worse, way worse things in my life. But it is what it is."
Even if the Lakers players blocked out the fans, James wondered aloud if they also are blocking out what gets to them through their phones.
"I know it has to be tough on a lot of our guys, especially our young guys," James said. "Right now, they've just never been a part of it and they're hearing it every single day -- and I know that the worst thing that you can do right now is be on social media. And I know all young guys love social media. So, that definitely can't help."
On a night when James became the fifth player in league history to hit 32,000 career points on a dunk over Indiana's Myles Turner -- his 18 points bringing him less than 300 points away from Michael Jordan for No. 4 on the all-time scoring list -- he also dealt with the lopsided defeat.
Before Tuesday, James' worst defeats were two games in which his club lost by 35 points: Jan. 16, 2017, when the Cleveland Cavaliers fell 126-91 to the Warriors in Oakland, California; and Nov. 28, 2007, when the Cavaliers lost 109-74 at the Detroit Pistons.
There are 28 games left in the regular season for the Lakers, and they're currently 2.5 games behind the LA Clippers for the eighth and final playoff spot.
Things already had started to shake up ahead of Thursday's deadline, with L.A. agreeing in principle to send Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and a future second-round pick to the Pistons for Reggie Bullock, as confirmed to The Undefeated's Marc Spears. And an earthquake-type shift could still occur if the Lakers land Davis.
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Tuesday that L.A. was waiting on a counteroffer from the Pelicans after adding Josh Hart and Ivica Zubac to a trade package that already included Ingram, Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and two first-round picks.
Maybe the deal gets done in the next day and a half. But if it doesn't, can the Lakers pick up the pieces still left in L.A. and start to play like a cohesive unit once again?
"I don't know if it's that simple," Rondo said. "It's not like the trade deadline happens and then everything is going to be back to normal. Guys are hearing it. It's a different mentality to have, obviously. Some of the young guys have never been through this situation.
"I can't speak up for them, but I know when I was that age, you may say it doesn't affect you, but it can mess with you a little bit mentally. It doesn't mean you're going to play bad, in the same sense, but it's part of the game."