First half summary: The defending champions continued their stretch of solid if not dominant play by staying near the top in the Western Conference and maintaining their profile as a title favorite. Speaking of consistency, LeBron James once again seems indestructible in his 17th season, avoiding injury and performing at a Kia MVP-type level. His shooting range has never been better, and once again he’s the team’s best facilitator. Newcomers Dennis Schroder and Montrezl Harrell found useful roles and are better than the players they replaced from a season ago.
The only cloudy issue is Anthony Davis’ durability. He suffered a calf injury that benched him for nearly three weeks, a time period that perhaps was precautionary as well, and the Lakers cooled off in his absence. Prior to the injury, Davis’ play wasn’t as steep as last season, but he’s graded on a higher scale than most. And, anyway, the Lakers didn’t appear to lose any sleep over it.
Biggest question going into the second half: Assuming Davis recovers from his calf injury and remains dormant, the Lakers must continue to get reasonably decent perimeter production. Among the Lakers with 150 3-point attempts or more, only James, Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are shooting better than 35%.
Interestingly, Kuzma’s progress seems to have stalled a bit. Two seasons ago he was viewed at best as a possible third star on a good team. The reality now is he’s a role player on a great team. He has embraced that reality and been a good soldier while giving the Lakers quality moments off the bench.
Didn’t the Lakers expect a bit more from Marc Gasol? His production waned last season in Toronto, yet apparently the Lakers saw fit to make him their starting center. He is clearly out of gas, averaging career lows in scoring and rebounding (4.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg), but his passing and interior defense are adequate. This is why rumors of adding DeMarcus Cousins have the sound of legitimacy.
Playoffs or lottery?: Securing the top seed in the West is once again a believable goal for the Lakers, through not necessary a primary one. That’s because there’s no real home-court advantage with sparsely filled or empty arenas. Therefore, the Lakers (or any other contender) won’t risk overwhelming their stars to obtain the best record.
In the playoffs, the Lakers hope to get steady play from newcomers who lack substantial postseason experience. That means Schroder and Wesley Matthews in particular might be asked to deliver in tight moments, much like KCP and (surprisingly) Talen Horton-Tucker did last fall.
Understandably, the blueprint for the Lakers is to make sure Davis is healthy and reduce LeBron’s minutes whenever necessary. Doing so would squelch the team’s few weaknesses as much as possible. If that happens, the Lakers will confidently enter the playoffs as the heavy, looking to push their considerable weight around.
— Shaun Powell