When the Los Angeles Lakers raised the Larry O’Brien trophy last year in the Orlando bubble, they seemed like a team that was destined to challenge again this season. Lebron James and Anthony Davis looked unstoppable, and the team that was supposed to challenge them all season, the Clippers, couldn’t even make it to the Western Conference finals. The Lakers were in a league of their own.
But Lakers fans haven’t enjoyed this current regular season nearly as much, as both Lebron and AD have missed large chunks of time due to respective injuries. The Lakers currently find themselves sitting in a three-way tie for fifth place in the West, although record tiebreakers officially have them in seventh place. That is significant this season because the NBA is holding a play-in tournament for the 7-10 seeds, to determine the last two playoff positions in each conference.
This seems like a classic case of getting a team on the right page, after spending most of the season without its two superstars. The Lakers also added buy-out victim Andre Drummond to the roster, a proven, physical center that can dominate the glass at both ends of the court. In the offseason, the Lakers bulked up the second unit by adding skilled point guard Dennis Schroeder and centers Marc Gasol and Montrezl Harrell.
Strong at the Front But Doubts Remain
Another pleasant surprise has been the play of rookie Talen Horton-Tucker in the absence of Lebron and AD. Horton-Tucker gives the Lakers a much-needed scoring boost from the bench, and should serve as a nice boost of energy alongside longtime Laker Kyle Kuzma. The Lakers are no doubt strong in the frontcourt, but to battle teams like Utah, Phoenix, and the Clippers in the playoffs, the Lakers will also need strong guard play from both units.
With eight games remaining on the Lakers’ schedule, things are starting to get a little sweaty in Los Angeles. Interestingly enough, the Lakers still own the second-highest odds of winning the NBA Championship at +350, trailing only the Brooklyn Nets at +230. Bettors will have an interesting time determining if this is even a bet worth making, considering the Lakers are 0-2 since Lebron has returned to the lineup, and are in serious danger of not even making the playoffs.
The Lakers will need to fend off either Portland or Dallas to get out of that dreaded seventh seed. Given the Lakers personnel as well as Lebron’s very public disdain for the play-in tournament, expect the team to do what they can to get on a roll before the playoffs start. The Western Conference is going to be an uphill battle this year, with upstart teams like Utah and Phoenix leading the way. While it is never a good idea to bet against Lebron James, considering how high the odds are, and with no guarantee the Lakers will even make the playoffs, there just does not seem to be any value in making that bet at this point in time.