NEW ORLEANS -- A 128-115 loss to the Anthony Davis-less New Orleans Pelicans left LeBron James questioning whether his Los Angeles Lakers teammates have the experience to grasp the challenge at hand and help the franchise qualify for the playoffs for the first time in six years.
"How many know what's at stake if you've never been there?" James asked Saturday after L.A. went down by as many as 20 points to a Pelicans team that was resting Davis and came into the night eight games under .500.
"I'm playing devil's advocate, you know? 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 -- 23 games left? We'll see what happens."
The Sacramento Kings also beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday night, leaving the 29-30 Lakers two games behind the Kings for the No. 9 spot in the Western Conference and 3½ games behind the LA Clippers and San Antonio Spurs, who currently occupy the final two playoff spots in the West.
James has made the NBA Finals the past eight years and the playoffs the past 13 years after failing to make the postseason in each of his first two seasons in the league. He has played 239 playoff games in his career. The 11 other Lakers to see the court Saturday have played 289 combined, with five of them -- Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Moe Wagner and Alex Caruso -- having never been there at all.
"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' message echoed his sentiments during the first season of his second stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014-15, when he challenged the "bad habits" of teammates Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, who at the time had also never seen playoff action.
However, James made those comments in November of that season. It's now late February. James admitted that he expected a learning curve with the Lakers. He just didn't expect for that curve to continue this far into 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."
Ball's severe left ankle sprain in mid-January coincided with the Lakers' defense completely disappearing. L.A. has now allowed at least 115 points in nine consecutive road games, tied for the longest streak in franchise history, according to data compiled by ESPN Stats & Information.
Rajon Rondo said the team's defense is the biggest issue the Lakers face, followed by the need to "play for each other" more often.
"We have no other choice," Rondo said of the defense. "It's either we do or we don't. We do, we make the playoffs, and still with that mindset if we do, if we get in the playoffs we can easily get swept in four games. So we have to start buying into the scouting report and start buying into each other and start to play for each other a lot more."
The Pelicans did exactly that with Davis out, getting big nights out of Jrue Holiday (27 points, 7 assists), former Laker Julius Randle (24 points, 5 assists), Elfrid Payton (14 points, 9 assists) and Cheick Diallo, who went 8-for-8 in 19 minutes off the bench, amassing 18 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks. The Lakers also helped out New Orleans by committing 23 turnovers.
Kuzma, who spoke about how James' defensive effort made a big impact in the Lakers' second-half comeback win over Houston on Thursday night, might have made another veiled reference to James on Saturday when asked whether he's questioning the team's ability to make a push for the postseason.
"I just think we got to be consistent," he said. "We got to be consistent with everything. We got to be consistent with our body languages, our effort. As a whole, we're just not consistent."
L.A. will finish its two-game road trip in Memphis on Monday before returning home to host the Pelicans on Wednesday.
"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," James 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."