How stable are the Los Angeles Lakers’ playoff possibilities with LeBron James out? Should the staff make a vital transfer?
Our NBA consultants reply the big questions with the Lakers on the playoff bubble and James out.
1. Which is nearer to your estimate of the Lakers’ playoff possibilities?
538: 45 p.c
BPI: 38 p.c
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN: 45 p.c, and I might peg my unscientific estimate a tick increased. The Lakers have proved themselves to be a stable playoff-caliber staff when James is lively. Regardless of the competitiveness of the West, there’s good motive to imagine that when he recovers, they’re going to return to type.
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Chris Herring, FiveThirtyEight: I nonetheless assume the Lakers will attain the playoffs, so I might take the 45 p.c chance. They need to be high-quality as soon as LeBron comes again totally wholesome, although it’d take a few video games for everybody to get again in sync. If the Lakers can make it by means of a treacherous February — when seven of their 9 video games are on the highway, in opposition to good competitors — they need to be high-quality.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN: 45 p.c. From my vantage level, the Lakers are what we thought they had been: a staff with a flawed roster however some fairly good particular person expertise that can have its moments and have its slumps. Their schedule is backloaded, so it is going to be difficult, however they’re adequate to rip off an eight-game win streak and prone sufficient to lose 5 in a row. In the finish, I see them successful 43-48 video games and getting the 6-Eight seed.
André Snellings, ESPN Fantasy: 45 p.c. I mentioned earlier than the season that I believed the Lakers could possibly be a 55-win staff, and even when they do not make that mark I imagine they may play to that stage in the second half of the season as soon as LeBron returns. Barring a catastrophe, I count on them to be in the postseason.
Kevin Pelton, ESPN: 45 p.c. The big distinction right here is that FiveThirtyEight’s projections account for the Lakers’ expertise at full energy — totally different from what we have seen over the previous three weeks with LeBron and Rajon Rondo sidelined. Whereas the schedule will get a lot tougher in the second half of the season — solely the Oklahoma Metropolis Thunder have a tougher remaining schedule, per BPI — I nonetheless would have the Lakers extra possible than not to make the playoffs.
2. LeBron has to play ___ extra video games for the Lakers to make the playoffs.
The Lakers have 40 video games remaining.
Windhorst: 30. He is most likely going to miss fairly a few extra due to this groin damage, perhaps a number of extra weeks. That is a actual damage and the Lakers have to watch out with it. They’ve to have him again totally wholesome as a result of they can not afford for him to get damage once more. Fortunately, he nearly by no means does.
Arnovitz: Based mostly on their successful percentages with and with out LeBron, 34 video games would get the Lakers to about 45 wins, which tasks to be proper on the cusp of the postseason (538 has the No. Eight seed in the West successful 43 video games and BPI has the No. Eight seed successful 46 video games). To be on the protected aspect, the Lakers can ill-afford to have LeBron miss greater than 5 extra video games.
Snellings: 25. The playoff cutoff appears to be someplace round 45 wins. If LeBron performs 25 video games, and the staff closes with a 55-win tempo, that’d be 17 wins proper there to get L.A. to 40. Meaning the Lakers would want to win about 5 of their different 15 video games to get in, a believable quantity contemplating they’ve gone Three-5 in the video games LeBron has missed.
Pelton: 30, if I’ve to choose a quantity. We all know he is going to miss at the least three extra video games due to his present groin pressure, however the Lakers have proven sufficient in wins over Dallas and Detroit this week to imagine they’ll keep afloat by means of one other mini-absence for LeBron.
Herring: I might guess about 35. It is one factor to be assured that L.A. will attain the playoffs. It is one other to count on them to make it if he continues to miss way more motion. With out him, I am undecided I might belief a staff this younger to end the job by itself. There is not that a lot room for error.
Three. Who’s the Lakers’ second-best participant?
Snellings: If there have been an growth draft and I might choose any Laker apart from LeBron, I’d select Lonzo Ball. His playmaking and protection at the place are particular, and I imagine he’ll become a star. However on these Lakers, LeBron is the level guard and he wants to be surrounded by gamers who complement him. Thus, Kyle Kuzma is their second-best participant with his means to play off the ball, shoot from vary and end with quantity and effectivity.
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Arnovitz: After dropping 41 factors on the Pistons on Wednesday evening, it is truthful to say Kuzma has claimed the mantle, at the least for the time being. He can each unfold the flooring and create off the bounce, which is greater than we will say for the remainder of the roster. Kuzma’s protection has improved, although he nonetheless would not give the Lakers the flexibility to really go small as a result of he is a legal responsibility at the 5. There’s nonetheless hope that Brandon Ingram can assert himself, however at current he is merely not sufficient of a shooter, not sufficiently artistic and never sufficient of a defensive presence to warrant consideration.
Herring: By no means would’ve made this argument earlier than the season, however it could be Kuzma. When James is out, he appears most comfy attempting to exchange LeBron’s scoring means. And whereas he is not as dependable as somebody like Ball on protection, Kuzma has proven to be respectable on that finish when giving full effort. The jury continues to be out on which teenager has the brightest future, although.
Pelton: I am undecided and I do not suppose it actually issues. Typically, second-best participant is synonymous with second-best offensive choice, and I feel the stretch with out James has reaffirmed what we suspected beforehand: That is Kuzma, not Ingram. Nevertheless, when protection and playmaking are factored in, a case may be made for Ball, Josh Hart and even JaVale McGee.
Windhorst: Do not know. Neither do they, actually. That is a downside. They’d the No. 2 choose three years in a row and so they failed to land a bona fide star. Drafting is difficult, typically you are able to do all the pieces proper and nonetheless miss. The No. 2 choose has been a hazard zone for years. However to get three in a row and never hit on one … that is doubtlessly going to canine the franchise for a whereas. No offense to Ball and Ingram, I simply do not see them as stars.
four. Should and can the Lakers make a big trade earlier than the Feb. 7 deadline?
Pelton: They should not and won’t, principally as a result of I do not know what big trade there’s to be made at this level. I might think about it extraordinarily unlikely Anthony Davis can be traded at the deadline, and the Lakers ought to definitely wait to see whether or not Davis is attainable earlier than making one other blockbuster trade.
Snellings: They need to … however just for Anthony Davis. Davis is the solely participant with any rumored chance of changing into obtainable who, when matched with LeBron, would give the Lakers a professional likelihood to contend this season. But when New Orleans holds on to AD as anticipated, the Lakers can be finest served to end the season robust, attempt to make a playoff push to season their kids after which enter the offseason with their max cap area and higher means to make strikes.
Arnovitz: They should not and won’t. The Lakers’ finest property can be value extra to them in the future than they’re at current. Davis is the famous person the Lakers covet, however there is not any motive for the Pelicans to begin the bidding earlier than Boston is eligible to put collectively its finest bundle in July. Barring that, there are most likely some smaller offers to full — e.g., the likes of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to a staff searching for some guard depth.
Herring: They need to however won’t. The staff locations an infinite premium on its younger gamers. However they have not proven a big leap to this level, each as a result of they have been studying how to play alongside LeBron and since they’ve had the ball much less as a result of that shift. However there is not any assure that any of them will become All-Stars, both. In the event you can alternate a few of that younger expertise — and do it whereas they nonetheless have a lot of perceived worth — this could be the time to do it, earlier than James will get any older.
Windhorst: They need to however won’t. They want extra capturing (free throw capturing included) and rebounding. The problem for them is they can not actually do a deal that brings on cash after this season as a result of they’re saving a max wage slot and so they’re proper on the edge. The opposite downside is their most tradable participant is Caldwell-Pope and he has trade veto energy. Finest wager could be to play the buyout market, which is infamous for disappointing over the years.
5. The Lakers have a increased playoff ceiling than all however what number of West groups?
Herring: Out of respect for LeBron, I will argue that solely two groups clearly have a increased ceiling: the Warriors and Nuggets. I feel these groups both have sufficient star energy or sufficient depth to the place I might choose them in a sequence with out enthusiastic about it too exhausting. LeBron himself is able to maintaining his staff in a sequence, and he might assist generate an upset in opposition to the different golf equipment in the West.
Arnovitz: Two: Golden State and Houston. LeBron has repeatedly demonstrated that he can drag a middling staff to the Finals (albeit by means of the Jap Convention subject). The person has posted profession playoff averages of 29 factors, 9 rebounds and seven assists, with a true capturing proportion of 57.9 p.c — and people averages are measurably increased than that over the previous three postseasons. The Lakers are certainly not the third-best staff in the West (nor are the Rockets the second finest), however particular person expertise has at all times been an outsized predictor of playoff success, and there is little motive to imagine that a wholesome LeBron James will trigger that to change.
Windhorst: Let’s rephrase this, apologies to the editors. What number of groups does LeBron James concern seeing in the playoffs? One, the Warriors. Everybody else, he’d give the Lakers a good likelihood to beat in a seven-game sequence. Why? As a result of the Lakers have him. That is how he thinks, and the way he has thought for years. His monitor report is fairly good. What number of groups do I feel have a increased ceiling than L.A.? In all probability 4.
Snellings: Two. If this Lakers staff enters the postseason wholesome, solely the Warriors and Rockets have increased playoff ceilings. The Nuggets and Thunder are each robust groups as properly, and each have arguments of their favor, however LeBron’s presence as an all-time centerpiece offers the Lakers an edge in the postseason. Golden State and Houston have the concentrated expertise to overwhelm the LeBron-led Lakers, however the Lakers at their finest might beat some other staff in the West.
Pelton: Three (Golden State, Houston and Oklahoma Metropolis). If the Lakers mix the top-10 protection they’ve performed since Tyson Chandler’s arrival with the form of offense we have seen from LeBron’s groups in the playoffs when he turns into a good higher hub, with apologies to the Nuggets, I feel these are the three groups with higher potential.