Even though the Los Angeles Lakers haven’t played at their peak lately as a populous injury report remains crowded, potential contenders for the NBA Championship around the league still view the franchise as the top threat to the title, including Philadelphia 76ers star Ben Simmons.
While LeBron James and Anthony Davis remain sidelined with lower-leg injuries, the Lakers have steadily descended in the revered Western Conference, knocking them down as favorites in the eyes of some.
That has paved the path for teams like the Brooklyn Nets, headlined by the triumvirate group of Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Kevin Durant, to become the favorites to hoist the trophy in the end. Adding Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge to the fold only increased their odds.
However, Simmons didn’t jump to give their rivals praise; instead, the 6’11” archetype said the Lakers are the team to beat as defending champions, via Mark Greger of Heavy:
“Rivalry? I mean if they keep that same team, definitely, but it’s going to be hard to do that,” Simmons told reporters after Monday’s 113-95 win. “We are going for the past champs, the Lakers. They are the ones that won the championship so you got to give respect to them. Brooklyn has a lot of talent but at the end of the day, there’s only one ball and you gotta play defense. So we got to come in prepared mentally.”
The 76ers are tied for first with the Nets in the Eastern Conference, and if they continue to remain healthy — which hasn’t always been the case this season — they definitely have the star power to pummel Brooklyn’s nebulous defense.
It’s also precarious if the Lakers can fight their way to represent the West in the finals, as if they remain the fifth seed by the time the playoffs commence, they’d have some serious competition to take on.
The Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets, L.A. Clippers and Phoenix Suns are all above the Lakers in the standings; as the fifth seed, hypothetically, Los Angeles would need to face, and defeat, the Nuggets — currently in 4th — and the Jazz — currently in 1st — in their first two rounds.
A healthy James and Davis would no doubt shake things up as a Lakers’ squad devoid of injuries usually contains no weak spots as their role players know how to excel at their jobs.
Regardless, Simmons and the 76ers likely aren’t the only team in the league hoping to take down the defending champs. All the Lakers can do is continue battling hard every game, especially now that the big seven-game road trip is in the rearview mirror, and hope to be as healthy as possible when it’s playoff time.
Lakers finish seven-game road trip with record over .500
In a demanding road trip that saw the Lakers take on various playoff-caliber teams, primarily in the East, without James and Davis, L.A. came out with a 4-3 record after defeating the Charlotte Hornets in crunch time.
The second-half schedule doesn’t have many easy opponents for L.A., so finishing .500 in arguably the toughest slate of games could boost the team’s momentum for future matches.
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