Sunday 19th September 2021,
The Hoop Doctors

Lakers look to finish the season on a high with returning stars

Last year’s NBA champions haven’t been at their absolute best this season, although some of the reason for that has been out of their control. During the last few months, injuries have plagued the Lakers’ biggest stars in Anthony Davis and LeBron James. James, who’s been out of action since March 20th with a high ankle sprain, is expected to return to the court relatively soon, whereas Davis has already made his comeback following a thirty-game absence.

Right now, the Nuggets and Lakers are tied 1-1 for the series, but they face off on May 4th in an all-important encounter. By taking a quick glance at the latest NBA Odds, you’ll get an idea of what sportsbooks think of the upcoming affair, and the season so far. At The Game Day, bettors can check out who’s favorite and which team is the underdog across all the best NBA action.

Despite missing the two stalwarts of their team, the Lakers aren’t completely out of the picture. Some might have expected a complete collapse following LeBron’s injury considering Frank Vogel’s men subsequently lost each of the next four games, but other players have stood up when it mattered. Notably, Dennis Schroder.

Schroder’s ability to take the reins in an attacking sense has kept the Lakers’ hopes of finishing the regular season on a positive note alive. The point guard scored 21 points against the Orlando Magic in what was a crucial win when you take into account that the Lakers had been on a three-game losing streak beforehand. As an added bonus, Anthony Davis enjoyed his best performance since returning by bagging 18 points for the team. Until LeBron is ready, which should be soon, the two will need to form a formidable working relationship to set the Lakers on the right path.

It wasn’t just Schroder that kept the ship steady over the last couple of months. Talen Horton-Tucker, at just 20-years-old, scored 24 points against the Utah Jazz and averaged over 13 points per game during mid-to-late April. The starlet has been lauded for his displays in recent weeks, proving to many that he’s ready to take another step forward in his development and become even more central to Vogel’s thoughts. Listen to anybody close to the team and they’ll tell you that Horton-Tucker is a keen learner and an excellent listener. According to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the kid is “like a sponge.”

We haven’t seen the best of everyone within the Lakers roster during Davis’ and James’ rehabilitation, though, with Andre Drummond struggling to make an impression. Admittedly, he was signed to partner Davis, so we haven’t had an opportunity to see what he’s really made of. Despite Davis making a return, it could be a little while before we get a glimpse of what Drummond can do as part of a projected duo. Vogel is quoted as saying that the “biggest thing is conditioning” when it comes to Davis, with concerns raised about the risk of re-aggravating his calf problem.

Have LeBron James & Anthony Davis returned too late?

We know that Montrezl Harrell and Kyle Kuzma are talented players. They’ve shown it multiple times at the Lakers, and the same applied when Davis and James couldn’t take to the court due to injury. However, some may argue that Vogel has been lucky with the schedule and that opponents were also missing their stars. So, were we sold a false impression of what the Lakers’ rotational players are capable of?

The Utah Jazz rested several key players, such as Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and Mike Conley, while the Hornets and Raptors were also without top performers. The Brooklyn Nets weren’t able to look to James Harden for inspiration when they took on the Lakers, while we saw Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were limited to just a few minutes of playing time. Have we just seen a natural leveling of the playing field with big teams forced to rotate their teams? That’s a tough question to answer.

With all the facts laid out in front of us, we can discuss whether or not the return of the Lakers’ two main men has come too late. Now placed 5th in the Western Conference, it looks like a steep task to work their way back into the top three. Doing so would require a monumental collapse from the LA Clippers, who look anything but ready to give up their current run of form. The Clippers are 8-2 in the last ten games, and although they were subjected to a surprise defeat at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans to end their four-game winning streak, they haven’t endured anything like what the Lakers have this season.

Realistically, the Lakers should be preparing for a first-round meeting with the Nuggets. The Denver Nuggets are above the L.A. Lakers as things stand, but they may begin to feel the effects of star-man Jamal Murray being out for the remainder of the campaign through injury. That said, the Lakers have a pretty good chance of jumping in front of the Nuggets to steal the fourth position, especially upon the imminent comeback of their superstar talisman. If this were to occur, then the Lakers would earn home advantage for a 4-5 first-round series against the Nuggets.

What next for the Lakers?

We all know that it hasn’t been the best of seasons for Lakers fans, but that doesn’t mean the future is all bleak. Still, LeBron James is one of the top choices for NBA’s 2020-2021 MVP award, and a late-season forward push could cement his victory. With regards to the Lakers as a team, they won’t finish atop the standings in the Western Conference – that’s obvious at this stage.

They don’t need to finish first to be the best, however. They have a favorable matchup versus the Denver Nuggets if things remain as they are at the moment, and the situation will only improve if the Lakers muster up the energy to force their way into that no.4 spot. We could yet see an improved, determined, and most importantly, a ready LA Lakers team as the season approaches its close.

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