The Los Angeles Lakers are 55 games into the season and currently hold the best record in the Western Conference. With less than 30 more regular-season games on the schedule, they should be preparing themselves for the postseason and a potential run at the title. Fans are speculating whether the Lakers will be able to pull off the four series wins to win it all. What should they be doing now to make that happen?
Rest the King
LeBron James isn’t getting any younger at this point in his career. It would make sense to begin using him sparingly throughout the rest of the regular season to avoid injury and ensure James is ready to perform at his best during the postseason. The question is where does that leave Anthony Davis. As the Lakers near the playoffs, it’s likely we see James sitting out more often; entire games even. This will force others to step up, take more responsibility, and play more minutes. Most notably Davis, who’s younger and in his prime, but also somewhat injury-prone and another player the Lakers might want to rest and protect.
At the start of the season, experts predicted Rajon Rondo would move into the starting point guard spot over Alex Caruso. Particularly since head coach Frank Vogel is mostly conservative and often prefers veterans over younger less experienced players. Rondo is a good ball-handler, perhaps second best to James. However his performance during the first half of the season has been mediocre at best, and there is a lot of talk about his contract getting bought out. His playing minutes are already on the way down and if the Lakers do end up taking a gamble on signing a new guard, Rondo could be on his way out of Los Angeles before long.
Adding Fire Power
With the trade deadline in the rearview mirror, unsigned UFA’s and buy out players take center stage as teams look to add key pieces for the playoffs. There is a lot of speculation that the Lakers may court and sign one of James’ former teammates, J.R. Smith. Smith decided to part ways with the Cavaliers in 2018 and has not played in the NBA for over a year. However, James recently posted his endorsement on Instagram regarding Smith and his workouts. Smith might have had time off to rest, vacation, hit the casinos or beaches he’s known to frequent, but the endorsement shows James faith in Smith’s abilities and certainly opens up the opportunity. The Lakers actually have a need for a player of Smith’s caliber, so it might not be long before Smith is wearing the purple and gold in Los Angeles.
Competition Will Be Fierce
Although the Lakers currently hold the best record in the Western Conference, the real test will come when they face off other championship contenders and playoff teams. The Lakers have key games against the Bucks, Clippers, and the Miami Heat coming up and the difference between finishing first in the conference and second is significant. The top seed is likely to face a near or sub .500 team. Currently, that would be the Memphis Grizzles but could be the Sacramento Kings or New Orleans Pelicans. The second-seeded team would likely meet a better than .600 team such as the Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz, or Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round.
Anthony Davis Will Step Up
During the offseason, Los Angeles bet the ranch and trading for Anthony Davis and the power forward has been everything the team expected him to be and more. Davis, in his prime at 26, is averaging almost 26 points per night, along with 12 rebounds, and about 4 assists. There is no arguing that Davis hasn’t been the difference in Los Angeles this season. Last year the Lakers missed playoffs for the 6th consecutive season despite signing James the summer before. This year they’re looking to lead the conference from wire to wire and make some noise in the playoffs. With Vogel likely resting James down the stretch we should be seeing more of Davis, enough that it could likely make him the front runner for the NBA MVP award.