Don't Sleep on the Lakers
DON'T SLEEP ON THE LAKERS - The bad news for NBA fans is the regular season is winding down as there are just a handful of games left on the schedule. The good news for the basketball diehards is the postseason is just around the corner.
While some teams are locked into their positions within their respective conferences, there are still a few teams hoping to move up a spot or two in the standings. A few weeks ago, I wrote an article discussing why we shouldn’t count the Golden State Warriors out as one of the teams that have a shot at winning it all. And at the time of this writing, the defending champs are in the No. 5 seed, just a half-game ahead of the LA Clippers.
The other team that we should keep a watchful eye on is the Los Angeles Lakers. A couple of weeks ago, the Lakers’ season appeared to be on life support. They were in the No. 12 spot in the conference playoff race. Not only that but LeBron James went down with a foot injury and there was a good chance that he’d be out of the team’s rotation for several weeks.
This could have easily derailed the team’s hopes of making it into the postseason. After all, if they weren’t in the mix with their best player on the floor, how would the team stay afloat during his absence? But instead of hitting the panic button, the Lakers rose to the occasion. James missed 13 games between February 26 and March 26. During that stretch, Los Angeles posted wins in eight of those contests.
And with LeBron James back in the lineup, the Lakers have posted wins in three of their last four outings. This includes wins over Chicago Bulls (121-110), Minnesota Timberwolves, and a 134-109 victory over the Houston Rockets on Sunday night. As a result, the Lakers are now two games above .500 (40-38), putting them in the No. 7 spot.
Although the New Orleans Pelicans have an identical record, the Lakers own the tiebreaker because they won the season series 3-1. Additionally, the Lakers trail the Warriors by one game and they are just a half-game behind the Clippers for the No. 6 spot. These two teams will square off on Wednesday.
Another reason to keep a watchful eye on this team is the recent play of Anthony Davis. In the team’s 116-111 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 24, he finished with 37 points (15 of 21 from the field) and pulled down 15 boards. Following a pedestrian outing in the 118-108 loss to the Bulls (15 points on just eight shot attempts), he bounced back a few nights later against those same Bulls with 38 points, nine rebounds, and four assists.
Next up was the Minnesota Timberwolves – the team currently slotted in the No. 9 spot. In that contest, Davis put up his second double-double in four outings, as he tallied 38 points, 17 rebounds, and two blocks.
And in the Lakers’ win over the Houston Rockets on Sunday, Davis finished with 40 points, nine rebounds, and two blocked shots.
Davis is averaging 26.3 points per contest, his highest scoring output since 2017-18, when he averaged 28.1 points per outing when he was a member of the Pelicans. Additionally, he is averaging a career-best 12.4 rebounds per contest. Simply put, this dude can flat out play.
The caveat with Davis is his availability. Over the last three seasons before the 2022-23 campaign, he played in 62, 36, and 40 games, respectively. Needless to say, health has always been an issue with the Lakers’ big man. But, if Davis can stay healthy, and that is a big IF, the sky is the limit for this Lakers’ squad that seems to be peaking at just the right time.
Lastly, although there are six teams ahead of the Lakers in the standings, the top half of the playoff bracket is somewhat shaky. For example, only two of those teams have been to the Finals in recent years. Those two teams are the Warriors, who won it all last season, and the Suns who fell to the Milwaukee Bucks in six games in 2021.
The Denver Nuggets are the top team in the western conference, but they are not viewed as a ball club that is going to steamroll the competition en route to a championship. The Memphis Grizzlies have the second-best record in the conference. And while they did push the Warriors to six games in last year’s playoffs, they have not enjoyed a ton of playoff success in recent years, posting a 7-10 record. Not only that, but this team has not been to a conference finals series since 2012-13.
Moving on to the No. 3 seed – the Sacramento Kings. Make no mistake, it’s a great story that this franchise snapped a 16-year playoff drought. But let’s be honest, is it feasible to think that this team is built for a deep playoff run? The answer is no.
The Lakers have already done the unthinkable by moving up five spots when it appeared that their season was over. Now, that they have found their groove, anything is possible in a conference filled with teams that have a lot of questions going into the postseason.