While the NBA season is still in its infancy, there’s no doubt that the Los Angeles Lakers have been one of the biggest disappointments. At this point, the Lakers are lucky to be above .500 and in one of the guaranteed playoff spots in the Western Conference. While things could be worse, the Lakers are a long way away from being one of the top teams in the Western Conference, leaving many to wonder whether or not they have a path to turning things around and getting back to the NBA Finals.
To be fair, the Lakers have played less than half of their games this season without LeBron James, who has missed time due to an injury and recently tested positive for COVID-19- although now it’s said that it was a false positive, James is back in the lineup for now. While the Lakers have all-stars like Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, and Carmelo Anthony on the roster, it’s impossible not to feel the absence of a player like James. The Lakers have grown accustomed to James putting that team on his back when necessary, with has undoubtedly been a factor with six of LA’s 11 losses being decided by single digits.
Meanwhile, the Lakers are still waiting for Westbrook to get comfortable and reach the same level he’s played at in the past. Westbrook once again averaged a triple-double per game last season while with Washington. However, his scoring, rebounding, and assist numbers have all dropped this season. That should not be the case with James missing so much time and the Lakers needing Westbrook to have the ball in his hands and making plays late in games.
But all is not lost for the Lakers, who have a relatively manageable schedule during the first part of December. After closing out November with three wins in four games, Los Angeles has an opportunity to get hot in December and quickly make up ground in the standings. The Lakers should be favored in most of their December games with or without James in the lineup. This stretch will be critical in helping them make up the seven-game gap between them and both the Suns and Warriors in the Western Conference.
Of course, therein lies the biggest problem the Lakers are facing right now outside of their injuries. Chris Paul and the Suns are one of the hottest teams in the NBA right now, going undefeated during the month of November. Meanwhile, the Warriors are neck and neck with the Suns at the top of the Western Conference standings. With Stephen Curry averaging nearly 28 points per game this season and Klay Thompson slowly working his way back after missing more than two full seasons due to injury, it’s only a matter of time until the Warriors have the Splash Brothers back and set their sights on a return to the NBA Finals.
Obviously, it’s far too early in the season to count the Lakers out entirely. When James returns and the Lakers can get all of their key players on the court at the same time for an extended period of time, there should be an uptick in the team’s performance. A team with James, Davis, Westbrook, Anthony, and others is undoubtedly a championship contender when playing up to its potential. However, with the way the Suns and Warriors have played this season, the Lakers at their best still aren’t overwhelming favorites in the Western Conference. The Lakers have played well below their capabilities this season, so there is a lot of ground to make up in that respect. Yes, there is a path for the Lakers to turn things around, but the path is a little more narrow than you might expect.