Will The Lakers Make The NBA playoffs? | Mark Medina
Just about a month after hoisting a trophy, the Los Angeles Lakers have become humbled with this reality. The Lakers have proven good enough to win the NBA’s Inaugural In-Season tournament. The Lakers have not yet proven they are good enough to win the 2024 NBA championship. Thankfully for the Lakers, they have three months to address their various issues. But can they? Below are reasons why the Lakers can and can’t make the playoffs.
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Why The Lakers Will Make The Playoffs
LeBron James & Anthony Davis Are Dominant and Healthy
Just as when they won an NBA title (2020) and advanced to the Western Conference Finals (2023), the Lakers’ two main stars have usually been the best version of themselves. James hasn’t suffered a major injury, despite playing in his 21st NBA season at 39 years old. Neither has Davis, despite his extensive injury history through 12 NBA seasons. James will likely make an NBA record 20 All-Star appearances after playing at nearly the same level as he has for most of his previous 20 seasons. Davis could become an All-Star reserve because of his consistency as a post-up player and rim protector.
The Lakers’ Supporting Cast Will Become More Reliable
It might be troubling that the Lakers have not enjoyed the same consistency as last season’s playoff run with nearly the same group. Consider a few caveats. One, the Lakers have had players miss a combine 99 players due to injuries thus far. Two, the Lakers’ ailments are more circumstantial than related to old age since the injured players are in their prime. So even if D’Angelo Russell (tailbone contusion), Rui Hachimura (left calf) and Gabe Vincent (left knee surgery) don’t have definitive timetables, the Lakers at least anticipate that Russell and Hachimura will return soon. Once the Lakers have a fuller roster, they can ensure more continuity than when they’ve had to field nine different starting lineups.
The Lakers Might Make The Right Trade Deadline Move
Rob Pelinka, the Lakers’ vice president of basketball operations and general manager, has often shown aggressiveness with either overhauling or tweaking his roster both in the offseason and leading into the trade deadline. With the Chicago Bulls actively listening to offers for guards Zach Lavine, it seems likely the Lakers will get in the mix. The Lakers will stay deliberate with what they give up and may try to acquire DeMar DeRozan and Alex Caruso instead of LaVine. Also look for the Lakers to explore other deals depending on if other teams decide either to bolster their roster or to start rebuilding leading into the Feb. 5 trade deadline. In either case, the Lakers will try to thread the needle between upgrading their roster without sacrificing too much depth and continuity.
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Why The Lakers Won’t Make The Playoffs
It’s Not Realistic To expect James & Davis To Sustain Their Play and Health
James has fought back against Father Time, but he already has missed games with injuries to his left calf (two) and left ankle (one). Who’s to say James won’t feel additional strain as the season wears on? Davis has yet to experience a serious ailment since nursing a right foot injury that sidelined him for a combined 26 games. Who’s to say Davis won’t get hurt again after playing in only 194 out of a possible 308 regular-season games in his first four seasons with the Lakers? It’s a red flag that James and Davis have been nearly at their best both with their health and production, and yet the Lakers are still 10th in the Western Conference. The concerning part: James and Davis may face diminishing returns as the regular-season grind continues without clarity on if they can receive consistent help elsewhere.
The Lakers’ Supporting Cast Won’t Ever Improve Significantly
The Lakers don’t have the same veteran-laden roster that led to overlapping injuries in the 2021-22 campaign. Therefore, the Lakers didn’t exactly foresee Hachimura (left eye, concussion, nasal fracture), Vincent (left knee), Cam Reddish (left & right groin) and Jarred Vanderbilt (left heel, back) would experience so many overlapping ailments. That shouldn’t shield the Lakers from scrutiny on struggling to build off their chemistry from last season. Reaves and Russell have stayed inconsistent with their shooting as both a starter and reserve. Even when healthy, Hachimura hasn’t been the same impactful defender and perimeter scorer as he was during last season’s playoff run. Jaxson Hayes and Christian Wood have occasionally bolstered the team’s size and length with rebounding and defense, but nothing substantial. Even if the Lakers would love to benefit from Vincent’s defense and shooting that made him a prized free agent in Miami, the Lakers’ fortunes can’t hinge on a healthy role player. Bottom line, role players are often inconsistent because of their sporadic playing time and more limited skillset. So regardless of how much healthier the Lakers become, they will likely still experience various issues with their supporting cast.
The Lakers May Not Upgrade Their Roster
The Lakers will surely canvass the market for possible deals leading into the trade deadline. It wouldn’t be surprising, though, if it doesn’t yield anything. The Lakers don’t want to acquire a third star at the cost of diminished depth. They learned their lesson with the Russell Westbrook trade. That leaves the Lakers with limited options, however, given that their role players are unlikely to spark much interest in individual deals. The Lakers are smart not to go star chasing. Yet, that also leaves the Lakers in an uncomfortable position with possibly having to stay put. Just as it has in the first part of the season, that roster could result in the Lakers falling out of the playoff picture.