At the beginning of the NBA season, the Los Angeles Lakers were the heavy +400 favorites to repeat as champions. The Lakers found themselves ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers (+500), the Milwaukee Bucks (+900), the Brooklyn Nets (+1200), and the Boston Celtics (+1300), and the regular season seemed like nothing but a formality.
Well, the Lakers have remained one of the favorites to take home the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy, but the regular season has been anything but a formality. The team started off hot but has been mediocre since losing both Anthony Davis and LeBron James to injury in February and March respectively.
Despite their struggles, according to sportsbooks and this online casino, the Lakers still remain one of the top picks to repeat at +350 odds, but it’s the Nets that are now favored at +250, followed by the Clippers at +600, the Bucks at +700, and the Western Conference-leading Utah Jazz at +750. It appears that oddsmakers believe that the fall in the standings will not be much of a hurdle once the Laker’s stars return, which should be within the next 2-weeks if not sooner.
Falling Down the Standings
When Davis went down on Valentine’s Day the Lakers were 18-5 (.783) and sitting on top of the Western Conference. They then won 8 of 14 (.571) until James suffered the high ankle sprain in a 99-94 loss against the Atlanta Hawks on March 3rd. A stretch where they fell from first in the conference standings to third. Since then they have gone 7-9 (.438) and have fallen to 5th in the standings, 3-games behind the Denver Nuggets, and 3-games in front of the Portland Trail Blazers.
With the new playoff format, it has become increasingly important for the Lakers to remain no worse than 6th heading into the playoffs, as the expanded play-in will see two extra teams added to the playoffs and a new play-in format that impacts the 7th through 10th seeds in each conference.
Holding Down the Fort
When Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma was asked about Anthony Davis possibly returning this week for the first time in over two months he was all smiles and jokes.
“It’s been about two or three months. Hopefully, he’s ready to go. Obviously, we miss him a lot out there. And having him out there is going to be really good for us. It allows certain guys to fall in line a little more as a whole. We can all get back to a little bit of a role, and play around him a little bit.”
But behind the smiles and jokes, it’s been serious business as the rest of the Lakers do their best to tread water until Davis and James return.
General Manager Rob Pelinka addressed both short-term and long-term needs with the addition of Andre Drummond to the squad shortly after the trade deadline that didn’t see Los Angeles make any significant moves. Drummond, a buy-out signing from the Cleveland Cavaliers added interior size and defense and is expected to transition to a more complementary role when Davis returns later this week.
The Lakers have 14 games remaining in the season which ends on the road against the New Orleans Pelicans on May 16. They likely need to win 7 or 8 of those games to hold on to their current position. With Davis expected to return this week and James in 7-10 days, there is no reason to believe the Lakers won’t be a threat come to the playoffs.