Several weeks into the NBA season, everything has not gone as expected. The Golden State Warriors are a juggernaut again, the Eastern Conference is bunched together with no team looking elite, and the Phoenix Suns just keep on winning. Arguably the biggest surprise of the season so far, aside from the Warriors’ return to form, may be the flawed Lakers struggling. At the end of November, their season took yet another blow as LeBron James, the all-conquering basketball legend, had to enter the NBA’s COVID Health and Safety Protocol.
This means LeBron is out for an indefinite period of time, depending on the protocols. He was absent for the Lakers’ game against the Kings on November 30thand will likely be out for more games. Keep this in mind when placing bets on the Lakers; LeBron is easily their most important player. Most of the betting sites in Canada take NBA bets, so if you’re a Canadian bettor, tracking LeBron’s status will be important over the coming week.
The Lakers managed to come through with a win on Tuesday in their first game with LeBron in the Health and Safety protocol. They managed to manhandle the reeling Sacramento Kings, winning 117-92 behind 25 points from Anthony Davis. This win pushed them over .500, getting them to a record of 12-11.
Things were supposed to be different for the Lakers this year. Last year was brutally tough for them. Both LeBron and Davis, their two best players and two of the top stars in the league, missed a lot of time to injury. The Lakers squeaked into the NBA playoffs through the play-in tournament and then found themselves matched up against the Phoenix Suns. The Suns bested them, and the Lakers were forced to rethink their team.
They made numerous moves in the offseason that were supposed to position them to survive without LeBron on the floor. At 36 years old, he is pretty much ancient in basketball years and was coming off an injured year. The Lakers added Russel Westbrook, the one-man wrecking crew, and numerous role players. They looked like they were ready to head into the year and dominate.
However, that has been far from the case. LeBron has played in just under half of the team’s games, and they’ve struggled without him.In twelve games without LeBron, they’re 5-7. With him, they’re 7-4. This is the difference between being a playoff team and a barely competitive also-ran.
The biggest reason for this is that the team hasn’t gelled. Russel Westbrook is the player their season’s fate hinges on, and he has looked like the same old Westbrook. That is both a good and a bad thing. For the Lakers to win, they need him to change his game. With LeBron and Anthony Davis, the team needs secondary playmaking, shooting, and smart offense.
Russel Westbrook is a beast and someone who greatly impacts games, but he has bad tendencies that could sink the Lakers in LeBron’s absence. He turns the ball over a ridiculous amount, he struggles to shoot from three, and he can hijack games with his shot selection.
In terms of the COVID protocols, LeBron being in them either means he has tested positive or has come into close contact with someone else who has. If he has tested positive, then he will be out at a minimum of 10 days, or until he returns two negative PCR tests within a 24-hour span.
Lakers fans expecting LeBron back in the near future could very well be disappointed. Philadelphia 76ers superstar Joel Embiid was recently out for three weeks after testing positive for COVID. He struggled greatly with symptoms and became extremely ill. Even after testing negative, players may struggle with their conditioning and need more time to get right.
On the bright side, if there is one, LeBron’s absence could end up forcing this team to step up. Head coach Frank Vogel has struggled to make his team perform this season, and he’ll have to adapt on the fly to LeBron being gone. Players like Talen Horton-Tucker, Malik Monk, and Austin Reaves, all of who would have lesser roles if LeBron was soaking up minutes, will see their playing time expand. This could lead to players expanding their game, growing their confidence, and being better contributors upon LeBron’s return.
It is unclear when the King will be back. The Lakers face a dogfight to stay relevant in a league that is extremely competitive. Anthony Davis and Russel Westbrook have to play like the superstars they are supposed to be, and the role players need to up their game. This is a pivotal stretch, and the Lakers at least need to tread water until LeBron comes back.