We are getting closer and closer to the business end of the NBA season. The All-Star game has come and gone, meaning everyone’s attention is quickly turning to this year’s NBA Playoffs betting odds. So far, several teams have defied their pre-season expectations to rise high in their respective conferences.The question on everyone’s mind is, Will the Lakers retain their crown?
Meanwhile, other teams have played well below their potential. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is reigning NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers. Anyone who planned to bet on NBA Playoff games at the beginning of the year would have surely expected LeBron James and co to go far in the postseason. However, things have not quite gone to plan.
Although the franchise will make it to the Playoffs, they are unlikely to secure one of the top seeds. This has led to many pundits dismissing their chances of securing back-to-back titles. Then again, others remain convinced that they have what it takes. Which side is right? We took a deep dive into the Lakers’ season so far and their future prospects to find out.
How They Won It Last Time
First, let us take a trip down memory by recalling exactly how the Lakers managed to win the championship last season. After acquiring world class power forward Anthony Davis, they started the year strong favourites to finish top of the pile in the Western Conference.
That is exactly what happened as well, with James and Davis both averaging over 25 points per game. After suffering a shock defeat to the Portland Trail Blazers, the Lakers went on to take the First Round series 4-1. The Conference Semi-finals followed a similar pattern. After losing the series opener to Houston, they bounced back to win the following four games.
A match-up with the upstart Denver Nuggets following in the Conference Finals. Despite the Nuggs’ best efforts they could only take one game, meaning the Lakers progressed to the NBA Finals with just three postseason losses to their name.
Their opponents were the Miami Heat who suffered damaging injuries to Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler in Game 1, which the Lakers won by 18 points. Game 2 saw LA win by 10, although Miami did manage to take Game 3 – mainly thanks to a heroic 40 points from Butler.
The pair went on to split Games 4 and 5, with the Lakers securing the championship with a 13 point Game 6 win. Key to their run was Davis and James, two of the best players of all time, managing to remain injury free. Saying that, players further down the Lakers’ rotation also deserve credit for chipping in when required.
Key Players This Season
Much like last season, Davis and James will be pivotal to the Lakers’ Playoff chances. Whenever one or both of LA’s big two have been unavailable this season, they have struggled. A four game losing streak in March – when both were out injured – was particularly worrying.
The reason for the drop off is pretty simple. The Lakers are understandably reliant on the pair, who take up a huge chunk of their salary cap. Prior to picking up his injury, James ran their offence. As well as leading the team in scoring with 25.4 points per game, he also topped the charts for assists and put in a lot of overlooked defensive work.
Davis was similarly influential. In just over 20 games this season he was averaging some of the most blocks per game in the NBA and scoring efficiently. As long as they keep to their current recovery timescale, both stars will be back well in time for the Playoffs.
The Lakers are not a two-man band, though. Shooting guard Dennis Schroder will play his role in the postseason as well. With active hands on defence and great court vision, he is a good foil for the dominating James. Elsewhere, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s perimeter shooting will be another potent weapon.
There has also been talk that the Lakers may strengthen their roster by buying out some players’ contracts, in a similar vein to the Brooklyn Nets.
Can the Lakers really win two in a row?
Thanks to the injuries that have plagued them this season, the Lakers route to the Finals is set to be more challenging than last year with hope of securing one of the top seeds lost. Things are far from settled in the West but the Lakers most likely opponents in the First Round are the Nuggets – which would be a repeat of last year’s Conference Finals.
This will be a seriously tough game. The Nuggets look even better this time around with Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray both stepping up their game to the next level this season. Their postseason performance last year also showed they should have no problem dealing with the pressure. Beat Denver and a semi-final against the Conference’s top seed would likely await. Win that and a mouthwatering meeting with city rivals the Clippers may await them in the Conference Final.
Could the Lakers really negotiate all of these tricky games? That very much depends on the fitness of James and Davis. LeBron is the highest scoring postseason player of all time, while his fellow franchise leader is an eight time All-Star.
Another thing likely to help the Lakers out is their experience. As well as their aforementioned big two, the majority of their roster has a championship ring and know exactly what it takes. In contrast, upstarts like the Suns and the Jazz may crack under the pressure. In short then, definitely do not rule out the Lakers winning back to back NBA titles.