Basketball

Should the Lakers Still Be Considered Favorites?

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Before the season started, the Los Angeles Lakers were one of the favorites to win the 2022 Championship. Has this now changed in light of their struggles this season?

No, the Lakers are very much in the championship conversation, they just need more time than expected. When the Lakers traded for Russell Westbrook everyone knew it wasn’t the most natural fit.

However, Westbrook is a great player, LeBron James is a great player and Anthony Davis is a great player so they should be able to make it work.

The Lakers are currently sitting in the seventh seed with a record of 11 wins and 11 losses. Not exactly what you expect from a team fighting for a championship.

You could blame the record on the absence of LeBron James, who’s only played 11 games so far, but the Lakers didn’t look great in the games he was in either.

The Lakers are 7-4 when James plays, including their comeback win against the Pistons after James was ejected.

Naturally, the Lakers are much better with James playing, but they are still not what you would expect them to be. However, they will be in due time.

Russell Westbrook Is Getting Better

Russell Westbrook is getting better. That doesn’t mean better as in a better player, but as in player better with the Lakers.

It was expected that it was going to take time for him to adapt to this new offense, and become truly comfortable in it.

The Lakers are a team that is going to become much better as the seasons go along, and if Westbrook starts playing at his best whilst James and Davis are performing too, they are going to be a scary team to face in the postseason.

This season, Westbrook is putting up 20.6 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 8.7 assists a game.

In the last five games, he’s averaged 26.2 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists per game. It’s clear to see that Westbrook is becoming better and better.

He has become a big driving force for this team as well, a couple of great possessions from him can turn the momentum game in the Lakers’ favor.

So if Westbrook is improving, what is holding the Lakers back?

Defense

The main reason for the Lakers’ struggles this season, really comes down to defense. It’s weird to think that’s what the Lakers’ problems would be considering the last two years how strong the team was in that department.

The Lakers currently allow 114.1 points per game. The only teams that allow more than them are the Charlotte Hornets and the Memphis Grizzlies.

They struggle to get stops, and getting timely stops can win you championships. It isn’t just getting stops defensively either, it’s closing out the stop with a rebounding.

The Lakers allow far too many offensive rebounds in a game. They allow 11.5 offensive rebounds per game, the only teams who allow more are the Sacramento Kings and the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Last year, the Lakers allowed only 8.7 offensive rebounds.

They need to be more disciplined on defense, there doesn’t seem to be much focus on boxing out and getting the rebound.

Can you blame Frank Vogel? He is one of the best defensive coaches in the league and has been responsible for the Lakers having such great defense the last two seasons.

The Lakers are missing Kendrick Nunn and Trevor Ariza. Whilst both are capable defenders, especially Ariza, they aren’t going to fix what’s wrong with the Lakers’ defense.

Poor decision-making, such as when to play help and when to run for the fastbreak have been giving up to many easy points.

This needs to be cut out if the Lakers want to come close to the defensive team they once were.

Lakers elite defense display

The Lakers’ offense isn’t good enough at the moment for them to win a lot of games whilst playing defense at this level.

The offense will definitely continue to improve, but if their defense doesn’t, then it is hard to see them winning another championship.

As time goes on, expect the Lakers to lock in on defense. There were points last season where the Lakers’ defense wasn’t good enough.

Anthony Davis and the Lakers called themselves out on it and improved. Perhaps we will see a similar change in this team.

One thing that is certain, you definitely can’t count out a team with this much talent. Especially a team that has LeBron James.

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