Like most NBA Finals contenders, the Los Angeles Lakers made moves to strengthen their title chances. Following the trade deadline, Los Angeles acquired Andre Drummond who was waived by the Detroit Pistons and signed shooting guard Ben McLemore who was released by the Houston Rockets.
It remains to be seen how Drummond and McLemore will fit into a playoff run given that both LeBron James and Anthony Davis remain sidelined with injuries. However, even with their two best players are on the bench, the Lakers don’t appear to be in danger of missing the playoffs, and both players are expected to return in the next 7-10 days.
Once the Lakers are one-hundred percent healthy, they’re as good as or better than the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, and Los Angeles Clippers, and with less than a month left in the regular season, the Los Angeles looks solid for a championship repeat.
Lakers are a Better Team Today
While teams like the Denver Nuggets made a splash at the trade deadline by acquiring top-shelf talent like former Orlando Magic player Aaron Gordon, the Lakers’ moves were more subdued.
General Manager Rob Pelinka patiently waited for Detroit to rid themselves of Drummond. He then signed the 27-year-old, 6’10” Mount Vernon, New York native to a one-year, pro-rated deal, adding a proven rebounding machine and an inside defensive stopper to a team that has been somewhat soft in the paint.
When asked, Drummond said that he believes when James and Davis return, the three of them combine well and will accentuate each other’s skillsets.
Pelinka then signed shooting guard Ben McLemore to address the three-point shooting issues the team has struggled with all season. While the former Kansas Jayhawk star struggled while a member of the Miami Heat, he’s expected to make a better contribution coming off the bench situationally for Los Angeles. Historically, McLemore has been a 36-percent shooter from behind the three-point line.
These two moves, plus the offseason additions put Los Angeles in a better position to win it all this season than last.
Injuries Have Provided Opportunity
Although James’ and Davis’ injuries seemed devastating at first, Los Angeles has already weathered most of the storm and remain in a solid playoff position ahead of both the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trailblazers.
Normally depth players, Kyle Kuzma, Dennis Schroder, Markieff Morris, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have all contributed during this stretch. Currently, Kuzma averages 12.6 points and 6.8 assists per game. Schroder, acquired during the off-season, averages over 15.1 points, more than 3 rebounds, and over 5 assists and has been the team’s greatest offensive threat with James and Davis on the bench. Morris averages 7 points and nearly 5 rebounds, and Caldwell-Pope drops 8.5 points each game.
Coming off the bench the last few weeks, Wesley Matthews, Marc Gasol, Montrezl Harrell, Alex Caruso, and Talen Horton-Tucker have all contributed. Among the bench contributions, Horton-Tucker’s success has been the biggest surprise. The former Iowa State Cyclone averages over 8 points, close to 3 rebounds, and over 2 assists per game this season. It wouldn’t surprise anyone to see his role increased as the team grinds towards their second straight playoff birth.
Western Conference Favorites
In what may be an NBA first, sportsbooks currently favor the 6th seed Lakers to win the Western Conference title. The Lakers started the season around a 3-to-1 favorite, and now sit as clear favorites at +200 to win the conference title and advance to the finals.
This isn’t an imaginative stretch. LeBron James and Anthony Davis are expected to be well-rested and one-hundred percent for the playoffs. This combination of health and rest works in the 36-year-old James favor, particularly come to the playoffs when his minutes and the level of in-game physicality rise.
Final Wagering Thoughts
As we approach the playoffs, it’s almost certain that money will pour down on the defending champions, shortening the odds even further.
Smart NBA futures handicappers and pay-per-head agents who use bookie software are right now getting a jump on the market, placing their bets at better odds now. If you’re keen on the Lakers repeating, use an oddsmaking bookmaker who leverages sportsbook software to find the best odds and prices available.