Expectations for the Los Angeles Lakers changed dramatically when they signed LeBron James to a four-year contract on the first day of 2018 NBA free agency. A franchise that had missed the playoffs in each of the past five seasons was suddenly expected to be among the contenders.
Of course, it’s a position the Lakers historically are comfortable with. Their 16 championships trail only the Boston Celtics (17 titles) for most in NBA history. Despite James only entering his first season and not having another All-Star, some projected the Lakers to claim another title this season.
As the midway point approaches, their odds to win the 2019 NBA Finals is sixth-best at +1800, per 888 Sport US. NBA wagers can now be legally completed in New Jersey through the 888 gaming company.
Ahead of them are the defending champion Golden State Warriors (-182), as well as the Toronto Raptors (+750), Celtics (+800), Houston Rockets (+1300) and Philadelphia 76ers (+1400). The Warriors remain a prohibitive favorite, like they were going into the season.
At their current pace, the Lakers will reach the NBA Playoffs and at least give themselves an opportunity to reach and perhaps win the 2019 NBA Finals. While it might not be likely, there’s a chance the team will break up their young core to trade for a second All-Star as a means of improving their odds.
Having won two titles in a row and three in the past four years, Golden State further strengthened themselves by signing DeMarcus Cousins. Their depth has allowed Cousins to steadily recover from a torn Achilles and he’s now practicing with the team as he nears a return.
Since a four-game losing streak, the Warriors have rebounded to win 10 of their past 14 games but are still looking up at other teams in the Western Conference standings.
One of the most surprising storylines of the 2018-19 season has been the emergence of the Raptors. Kawhi Leonard has led a balanced attack that’s propelled the Raptors to the top of the Eastern Conference.
It’s where many expected the Celtics to be one season after pushing James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in a competitive Eastern Conference Finals. Gordon Hayward has been slowing returning from a gruesome ankle injury that’s required him to change to coming off the bench.
They have hit another skid, however, losing three straight games after rattling off seven consecutive wins.
Perhaps just as surprising as the Celtics not meeting expectations has been the Rockets and their struggles. The signing of Carmelo Anthony backfired as he played in just 10 games before he and the team decided a separation was in their best interest.
Anthony has not been traded since he and others who signed a new contract in free agency this past summer became eligible, nor have the Rockets moved ahead with a buyout. There was some belief the Lakers could become a factor because of James’ close relationship with Anthony.
The Rockets did begin to play better of late to enter the Western Conference playoff picture but now will be without Chris Paul for at least two weeks because of a hamstring strain.