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Can exhausted LeBron, Anthony Davis get to Lakers’ finish line?

Forget about the NBA championship. In the likely case in which the Lakers end up in the play-in tournament, will they even reach the playoffs?

There’s a chance the Lakers can avoid the nightmare scenario, as they could earn a direct path to the playoffs as the Western Conference’s fifth or sixth seed with a win over the Utah Jazz on Sunday and an abundance of help from other teams.

However, the more likely outcome has them in the play-in tournament next week — a prospect that became exponentially more frightening in recent days.

On Friday night, in a 121-107 victory over a Phoenix Suns team that rested its four best players, LeBron James looked as if he was playing on empty.

“I’m looking forward to possibly having a day off tomorrow,” James said afterward.

Anthony Davis looked equally gassed.

Asked how his body felt after playing three games in four days, Davis replied, “Like I need tomorrow off.”

The rhetoric from the Lakers was similar to what it was after their loss to the Clippers two days earlier.

When the Lakers were down by one to the Suns at halftime, coach Darvin Ham had a simple message for his players: “Just got to figure out a way how to power through.”

They managed to do so, but not because of James or Davis, who finished with a combined 30 points. The victory was a credit to D’Angelo Russell, who led them with 24 points; Austin Reaves, who contributed 22; and Malik Beasley, who scored 21 off the bench.

The Lakers will have to power through again Sunday against the Jazz. They might have to power through again Tuesday or Wednesday in the play-in tournament. They might have to power through again Friday in the final game of that tournament if they still haven’t secured their pass to the playoffs.

The game against the Suns was the Lakers’ sixth game in 10 days. If James and Davis were as visibly fatigued as they were then, in what kind of shape will they be Tuesday?

“I got a lot of superpowers,” James said, “but I do not have the ability to know how I’m going to feel three days from now.”

James is 38.

Davis has played 55 games this season, after playing 40 last season and 36 two seasons ago.

Lakers forward Anthony Davis tries to score inside against Suns center Bismack Biyombo during the first half Friday.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

They have pushed hard in recent months to thrust the Lakers back into postseason contention after the team started the season with a 2-10 record.

When the Lakers defeated the Suns, the significance of them winning their 42nd game wasn’t lost on James, who recalled telling Davis, “Can you believe we’re going to finish this season above .500? Everything that’s gone on this season, we turned this thing around.”

The extended sprint was bound to catch up to the players, particularly James and Davis.

“I know if I’m feeling tired,” Ham said. “I can only imagine how [the players] feel.”

James returned from injury less than two weeks ago. In addition to working his way back into game shape, he’s had to get acquainted with players who were acquired at the trade deadline.

“We have to do what we need to do to make sure we have the proper energy, the proper rest, care, making sure we’re taking care of our guys and their physical issues,” Ham said.

The Lakers won’t practice Saturday.

“The only bad thing about it — but it’s a good thing,” James said, “I still got to be a dad too.”

James said he would spend his recovery day watching his son Bronny play in the Nike Hoops Summit in Portland, Ore.

“So there’s no rest for the weary, you know?” James said.

However the Lakers are feeling, Ham said that in a potential play-in game, he wouldn’t expect them to have the kind of slow start they had against the Clippers or Suns.

“I just think the stakes being what they are is really going to ramp up our guys,” Ham said. “It’s just part of being a human. Your mind is going to be in it.”

Ham called on Russell and other peripheral players to decrease the burden on James and Davis.

Yet if the play-in tournament is a threat to the Lakers’ ambitions, it also represents a major opportunity.

If the Lakers can secure the seventh seed, they would host the eighth seed Tuesday. A victory in that game would earn them a pass to the playoffs, which wouldn’t start until April 15.

The Lakers could have as many as four days off between the play-in game and their playoff opener. James and Davis would have time to recover. The most grueling part of their schedule would be behind them, because there won’t be games on consecutive days in the postseason. They would be positioned to make a run.

But they have to get there first, and their two best players are exhausted.

This story originally appeared on LA Times

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