It has been a long time before the start of the 2020-2021 NBA season that all of us fans have concluded that the Los Angeles Lakers had the best offseason pickups. Without much of a roster change, the pickups of Dennis Schroeder and Montrezl Harrell were a shock to the masses to see how better their roster looked heading into the season. However, with the conclusion of this season in a couple of days, the Lakers are in a position no one ever expected.
Much of us anticipated that the Lakers are in a position in contention to repeat the success of garnering the championship again after the bubble-filled fiasco back in Orlando.
The Lakers’ Story of the Season
The Lakers are currently sitting seventh in the conference, just ahead by two games over the Warriors. I mean, who wouldn’t guess that the Warriors and Lakers would sit side by side in the conference. Their shortcomings have been the talk of the season, and they are on the brink of elimination with just three games left on the season.
As games went on, the wear and tear of this team started to catch up on all of them. It was just in February that the Lakers were in a comfortable 22-7 record but ended up losing a lot of games in April and March to end up in a 39-30 record.
Now to answer the question if the Lakers are in trouble, we should look at how they got there in the first place.
The Setback to the Lakers Stars
Both Lakers’ stars, Anthony Davis And Lebron James have been on significant setbacks this season. Due to a shortened offseason, both players have struggled to stay on the floor. Davis, in particular, who has had an injury history in the past, missed 35 of the 69 games with several lower-body injuries. The Lakers are 21-13 with Davis on the floor but sadly have a losing record without him.
Even without James and Davis, many Lakers players have been on and off between games as the injuries piled on. At times, the Lakers played without Shroeder, a vital piece for the Lakers’ offensive game plan, and Marc Gasol, who brings much veteran play on the defensive on the ball. This problem has got for players like Talen Horton-Tucker to step up at times given that much-needed offensive talent to keep afloat.
Even with the Lakers recent victory to the Knicks last night, Davis still addressed his injury issues,
“I’m hurting, … My Groin tight.. Very strong possibility that I fight through it and play, but also don’t want to have it (linger).”
It has been even worse without their leader, LeBron James, who had ankle injuries of his own in the latter half of the season. As of right now, the Lakers are 8-13 without him. He even expressed his frustration about his thoughts on a play-in tournament with this comment,
“Whoever came up with that (expletive) needs to be fired.”
LeBron is the crucial element for how the Lakers run their offense. The way the Lakers missed his I.Q and playmaking have contributed to how they dipped to 24th in the league in offensive rating this season. A big difference from the Lakers’ 10th place last season.
James, who is expected to come back later against the Rockets, would provide the needed boost to get their feet wet as they continue a late playoff push.
Is It Too Late To Gel?
With three games left in this season, the Lakers have games against Rockets, Pacers, and Pelicans, all of which should be easy wins for the Lakers if some miracle happens on the other team. The Lakers are six games ahead of the tenth seed that make the play-in to do the math. Even if the Lakers lose their next few games, it is very sure that they make the play-in tournament. As we examine the Lakers’ potential games, how certain are we that the Lakers do well in their upcoming matchups?
This team did not play a lot of games together. In addition to new players such as Andre Drummond and Ben Macklemore, chemistry might be an issue for the team. They have three games to figure that out before the play-in, and I’m sure with the staff and experiences this Lakers’ team has, they can successfully achieve that.
Does their seeding matter too much?
If there’s something I learned around the few years I’ve watched basketball, it is to never bet on LeBron James. The four-time champion has the ultimate experience any player would have in the postseason. Even if the Lakers end up in the seventh or eighth seed heading into the playoffs, would it be crazy to think that they might end up as the favorite if complete and healthy?
If the current playoff standings were set today, the Lakers would play the Jazz if they end up 8th and Suns with the 7th seed. Both teams are young and have fewer playoff experiences. If I were to strategize the Lakers’ playoff chances, I would choose the seed that would delay a Clippers matchup until the conference finals. It makes a lot of sense as the Clippers can match up have the amount of experience and veteran leadership the Lakers have.
Then again, we’re talking about a team that has LeBron and Davis, who has a playoff experience under his belt. Any team who matches up with the Lakers in the first round will have the time of their lives. Injuries would be the deciding factor in the fate of this team.
I always believed in the saying that “The Road to Defending is easier in Winning one”. This statement proves suitable for the Lakers with a possibility of even missing the playoffs. I don’t think they would miss the playoffs, but I believe that there is something to be concerned about.
Does this team know each other on the floor that much to win a playoff series? How bad are the injuries to James and Davis heading into the playoffs? It would be quite a ride for Lakers fans as an expected play-in matchup with the Lakers would be a must-see T.V for all NBA fans.
As I re-state my question, Is it over for the defending champs? A no will be my answer. Certainly not with LeBron James and Anthony Davis both back on the floor.