With three MVP-caliber players running the show, the Los Angeles Lakers entered 2021-22 with championship expectations. Yet through the first 25 games, LA has looked far from the heavyweight favorite many expected it to be.
Sitting with a 13-12 record, it’s easy to write off the Lakers as nothing more than a play-in team at best. But is there still a chance for the Purple and Gold to salvage the season and secure one of the top four spots in the Western Conference come playoff time?
Charles Barkley and the TNT crew debated whether the Los Angeles Lakers would finish with a top-four seed
Tuesday’s game represented one of the Lakers’ best efforts of the young season. LA received contributions from all three of its stars en route to defeating the Boston Celtics 117-102. After the game, TNT’s Inside the NBA crew dissected the game and more importantly, where the Lakers would finish by season’s end.
“I believe they will be a top-four seed easily,” Kenny Smith told his fellow analysts. Smith’s confidence was met with skepticism from Barkley, who thinks LA is in for a rougher season.
“The Lakers are not going to be in the top-four,” Barkley clapped back. “I don’t care what anybody says.”
“Let me tell you why they’re going to be four or five,” explained Shaquille O’Neal. “They don’t want that seventh or eighth spot come playoff time. … Matchup-wise, they do not want Phoenix or Golden State in the first round.”
“Tonight, tomorrow, next week, next month, they’re not even on the same planet with the Suns and Warriors,” said Barkley before triumphantly sipping from his mug. Earlier in the show, Chuck also guaranteed the Lakers finishing in the play-in round, claiming they “won’t win six games in a row at any point this year.”
The Los Angeles Lakers had a complete performance against the Boston Celtics
If Tuesday was any indication of things to come, the Lakers are on the verge of a major breakthrough.
Unlike the majority of its games thus far, LA won thanks to a dominant third quarter, out-scoring Boston 31-20 coming out of halftime. Leading the charge was Russell Westbrook, the much-maligned guard who dropped 15 of his 24 points in the third.
Elsewhere, LeBron James led the Lakers with 30 points. James, who returned from health and safety protocols last Thursday, also registered a team-high +18 rating. In addition, Anthony Davis had a very solid 17-point, 16-rebound effort to go with a pair of blocks and steals.
“There were a lot of things we could clean up, but tonight was one of the best 48-minute games that we had so far,” James told TNT immediately after the win. “And we want to just continue that going into Memphis.”
LA was unable to contain Jayson Tatum, who finished with 34 points on 13-of-22 shooting. Yet Tatum was the only Celtic to score more than 13 points, as the Lakers did a strong job of making things difficult for the rest of the C’s.
A four-seed or better is still well within reach for the Purple and Gold
Are the Lakers disappointed by a 13-12 start in what was supposed to be a title-contending season? Absolutely they are. Yet earning homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs is still very much on the table for the 2020 NBA champions.
Entering Wednesday, LA holds the sixth seed after losing a tiebreaker with the 13-12 Los Angeles Clippers. Yet James and company are only 1.5 games behind the four-seed Memphis Grizzlies, a team currently playing without star guard Ja Morant. The Utah Jazz are penciled into the three-seed with a four-game advantage over the Lakers. Conversely, LA is only 2.5 games ahead of the 10-seed Sacramento Kings, who sit just outside the play-in round.
It bears repeating, however, that Tuesday was just the 12th game LeBron, AD, and Russ have played together. James, who has yet to play more than three games in a row this season, is the sole reason why that’s the case. So if LeBron can stay on the court and develop more chemistry with his fellow two stars, there should be many more games similar to what fans saw against Boston.
Catching the Warriors or Suns may be an impossible task at this point. However, the Lakers still have plenty of time to set themselves up for playoff success.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.