As the NBA continues to try work towards resuming the 2019-20 season, the Los Angeles Lakers remain in prime position to make a championship run.
The Lakers have thrived in forward LeBron James’ second season in the purple and gold.
The additions of forward Anthony Davis and guard Danny Green have helped Los Angeles climb to the top of the Western Conference.
Currently sitting at 49-14, with a 5.5-game lead over the No. 2-seed Los Angeles Clippers, the Lakers have an opportunity to have the Western Conference run through them.
However, the NBA hasn’t made a decision on the schedule once the season resumes. The league may decide to skip straight to the playoffs, or it may finish out the regular season.
Regardless, the Lakers’ main competition for a ring is basically set.
So, without further ado, here is the Lakers’ road to a championship:
Potential First-Round Matchups
The biggest uncertainty heading into the playoffs will be Los Angeles’ first-round opponent.
Should the NBA decide to go straight to the playoffs, it will be the Grizzlies.
However, if the league wants to finish out the regular season, the Trail Blazers and Pelicans are both just 3.5 games out of the No. 8 seed.
Whichever team claims the final spot in the West will stand little chance against the Lakers.
Los Angeles is 9-2 against the trio this season.
On top of that, in the Lakers’ loss to the Grizzlies on Feb. 29, Green did not play and Davis logged just over 24 minutes.
Memphis is also extremely young, even though it has a solid core featuring guard Ja Morant and forward Jaren Jackson Jr.
The biggest concern in a first-round opponent would come from Portland, should it sneak into the No. 8 spot.
The Blazers have the most experience of the three teams and made the Western Conference Finals in ’19.
However, injuries have derailed their season, with centers Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins missing the majority of the season.
The experience and star power of Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Carmelo Anthony still exist, but it will take a lot for Portland to even get into position to play L.A.
The Second Tier
The Mavericks are going to be a force out west for years to come with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, but they aren’t quite ready to knock off the Lakers.
Los Angeles is 3-1 against Dallas this season. The Mavs have a lot of shooting, as they rank second in the NBA in 3-pointers made and attempted, but defensively there are questions.
Dallas comes in at No. 17 in the league in defensive rating and lost starting center Dwight Powell for the year due to an Achilles injury.
Coupled with a lack of playoff experience, the current No. 7 seed isn’t quite ready to take that next step.
The Thunder are yet another young team, but with a veteran leader in Chris Paul.
Still, the Lakers won all three matchups against them this year.
Currently positioned in the No. 5 spot, Oklahoma City is just a game behind the No. 4-seed Utah Jazz.
It has surprised in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year after trading guard Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets.
In fact, Houston is percentage points behind it at No. 6.
Paul, Danillo Gallinari, Dennis Schroder and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander won’t be an easy out, but they also are lacking the scoring punch and star power to be championship contenders.
The Jazz fall in a weird spot, due to the reported strained relationship between the team and center Rudy Gobert.
Whether there is actually an issue or not, the Jazz are not the same team that they were before the NBA suspended play.
Forward Bojan Bogdanovic, the team’s second-leading scorer, is out for the season after undergoing surgery on his right wrist.
Utah Jazz F Bojan Bogdanovic is undergoing season-ending surgery on his right wrist, sources tell ESPN. Full recovery expected for start of 2020-21 season. He's averaged 20 points per game for Jazz, fourth-seed in West.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) May 18, 2020
Losing such an important player essentially takes the Jazz out of contention, especially if the league moves straight to the playoffs, as it won’t allow them much time to adjust or find a replacement.
The Lakers also are 2-0 against Utah this season, cementing Utah as a second-tier threat to their title hopes.
It’s no secret that the Clippers are the biggest threat to James and company in the West.
The Lakers are 1-2 against them this season, but did win the last matchup 112-103.
The Clippers have the star power to compete with James and Davis.
Reigning NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and forward Paul George are two prolific wing scorers who play both sides of the ball.
In addition, the Clippers sport multiple other defensive stalwarts in Patrick Beverley and Marcus Morris.
Acquisitions such as Morris and guard Reggie Jackson make the Clippers the deeper team, but these teams have had equally good seasons.
The Lakers are fourth in the league in offensive rating and third in defensive rating, while the Clippers slot in at third and fifth, respectively.
It’s a battle of two giants, and if they square off, every game would technically be a home game for both teams.
It’s easy to say that the series will come down to which stars play better, but contributions from guys like Green, Dwight Howard, Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will be crucial against the Clippers’ depth.
The Clippers lead the NBA in bench points per game at 51.5, while the Lakers slot in at No. 12 averaging 38.9.
The Nuggets have not made it to the Western Conference Finals since 2009 and they will face an uphill battle again in 2020.
The Lakers could see them in the second round, depending on how the seeding shakes out.
Right now, positioned at No. 3, the Nuggets would have to go through Houston and the Clippers to make it to the Western Conference Finals.
Not an easy road.
Denver is led by star center Nikola Jokic and has one of the best home-court advantages in the NBA (25-8 at home, 18-14 on the road).
They have six different players that average double-digit points per game with Jokic (20.2) and Jamal Murry (18.8) leading the charge.
Loaded with wings such as Jerami Grant, Michael Porter Jr., Will Barton and Gary Harris, the Nuggets can throw a bunch of different defenders at LeBron.
But the Nuggets simply lack star power.
The Lakers are 2-1 against Denver this season, with one of the victories coming in overtime (120-116 on Feb. 12).
Davis has had a field day against Denver this year, averaging 30.0 points per game.
It’s a rising team in the Western Conference, but will face tough tests if it even wants a shot at the Lakers.
Houston has had quite the roster turnover in the past year, as it acquired Westbrook and Robert Covington, while losing Clint Capela and Paul.
Houston is 1-1 against Los Angeles this year, with its lone win coming after the Capela trade this season.
Houston’s identity is simple. It takes the most 3-pointers in the NBA and is second in offensive rating.
But defensively it is severely undersized.
The Lakers can exploit that with James, Davis, Javale McGee, Kuzma and Howard.
While Houston’s offense carried it the first time it matched up with its smaller lineup, it also made 19 3s to the Lakers’ nine.
It is very hard to sustain an offense that requires it to shoot well every night, and the Lakers have a top-five defensive unit.
Houston averages 15.4 3-pointers made per game, while Los Angeles has allowed just 11.3 per game (good for fifth-best in the NBA).
Houston remains a contender because of its recent playoff runs and different style.
However, at the six spot, Houston would have to beat both Denver and the Clippers before getting a shot at the Lakers should the NBA move directly to the postseason.
The Eastern Conference Challengers
The Lakers are 16-7 against Eastern Conference opponents this season.
What is more concerning, is that against the top eight teams in the conference, they are just 7-7.
The Miami Heat are the only current playoff team in the Eastern Conference that hasn’t beaten the Lakers this season.
Los Angeles is 2-3 against the trio, and each team provides a different challenge for L.A. should they meet in the NBA Finals.
Milwaukee has the best record in the NBA (53-12) and is led by reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The Bucks have the best defensive rating in the NBA at 101.9 and are deadly from 3-point range, hitting the fifth most in the league.
It’s a perfect storm to compete with the Lakers, as Antetokounmpo’s size helps them match up well with Davis and James.
Khris Middleton has blossomed into an All-Star as the Bucks’ second star.
It took 37 points from James and 30 from Davis for the Lakers to win against Milwaukee on March 6, but the benches could be the difference in this series.
Like the Clippers, Milwaukee is deep with shooting, and is No. 10 in the league in bench scoring.
They don’t get much closer than this.
The defending NBA champion Raptors defeated the Lakers in their lone matchup this season (113-104 on Nov. 10).
LeBron had a tough night from the field, scoring just 13 points on 5-of-15 shooting.
As well-rounded as the Raptors are, with six players averaging double-figures scoring, they don’t have a Giannis or Kawhi.
Pascal Siakam is a budding star, but it’s Toronto’s length and defense that make it dangerous.
It is currently second in the NBA in both defensive rating and steals per game.
The biggest concern for Toronto is that it is just 1-4 against the Bucks and Celtics this season.
Since it likely has to beat both teams to get to the finals, Toronto comes in as much less of a threat.
It’s hard to forget the Lakers’ 139-107 blowout loss to Boston on Jan. 20, where James and Davis combined for just 24 points.
The Celtics are young, but they are armed with a ton of different scoring options.
Jayson Tatum (23.6 points per game), Kemba Walker (21.1 PPG), Jaylen Brown (20.4 PPG) and Gordon Hayward (17.3 PPG) bring a balanced approach on offense.
Head coach Brad Stevens is one of the best in the game, and Boston is in the top five in both offensive and defensive rating.
It has played the Lakers well both times, losing by just two points, (114-112 on Feb. 23) in its last matchup.
Boston has split its season series with Milwaukee so far and may be the dark horse candidate in the Eastern Conference.
There is no easy road to a championship.
However, the Lakers are as well-equipped as anyone to get there, especially with the duo of James and Davis leading the way.