The six games the Lakers have played in the bubble have been a Jekyll and Hyde roller coaster ride for Lakers fans who expected their team to pick up where they left off five months ago when they were on top of the world.
Instead, the Lakers are struggling, their two superstars suddenly appear mortal, their shooters can’t shoot, their coach can’t coach, and the needles on most Lakers fans’ ‘worry meters’ are hovering near the danger zone. While they’re still the #1 seed in the West, the team has lost three straight and four of six games played and ranks dead last in offensive rating and three-point shooting among the 22 teams playing in the Orlando bubble.
With just two regular season games left to play before the playoffs start, poor play, nagging injuries, and the challenges of the bubble are raising concerns about the Lakers’ ability to coalesce and win the championship. How teams were playing five months ago has become irrelevant, the road to the Finals longer and steeper, and the future more difficult to predict. Here are the five ‘big’ questions every Lakers fan is worrying about right now:
1. Will We See Playoff LeBron in Purple and Gold?
While there have been glimpses, we haven’t seen the usual signs of James donning his cape and transforming himself into Playoff LeBron. That could still come but right now LeBron’s looking rusty after a five month hiatus. The lingering groin injury, moments of mortality, and comments about things he can’t control have cast doubts whether 35-year old LeBron will still be able to elevate his game to carry the Lakers to the championship.
The only thing certain is pursuing this championship in the bubble will be the greatest challenge LeBron James has faced and winning it the greatest accomplishment he has achieved in his long and storied NBA career.
2. Will Anthony Davis Learn to Beat Double Teams?
The Lakers need both of their superstars to win a championship and they have rarely seen that in the six games since the regular season restarted. Like LeBron James, Anthony Davis has not regained his pre-hiatus form. Opposing teams have started doubling AD and it’s clearly affected his play. He’s been held to less than 10 points twice in the last six bubble games compared to just twice in the 55 games before the coronavirus suspension.
The NBA is a copycat league and Davis is going to see a heavy diet of teams doubling him throughout the playoffs. He will need to learn how to beat double teams and play like the superstar he is for the Lakers to succeed.
3. Will Our Role Players Shoot Well Enough to Win?
The acknowledged blueprint for winning championships with LeBron is surrounding him with elite shooters. Poor 3-point shooting has been the Lakers’ Achilles heel and could be their downfall in the upcoming playoffs. The Lakers have made only 50 threes in their 6 games and are shooting just 25.4% from deep, both of which rank dead last among the 22 bubble teams. Teams simply cannot win in the modern NBA shooting threes that poorly.
As long as the Lakers shoot poorly from deep, teams will continue to double Anthony Davis and clog the paint to slow LeBron James. The Lakers’ role players must dramatically improve their 3-point shooting to win the title.
4. Will Frank Vogel Make the Right Playoff Moves?
Lakers’ head coach Frank Vogel has done an admirable job leading the Lakers to the #1 seed in the West but the challenges of these bubble playoffs may require him to make adjustments that are uncomfortable. Stability is critically important during the long haul of the regular season but the willingness to make unconventional moves and innovative adjustments on the fly is often the difference maker in the playoffs.
Is Vogel willing to sacrifice defense to jumpstart his sputtering offense? Is he willing to forego his season long reluctance to start Anthony Davis at the five and Kyle Kuzma at the four? He must make the right moves in time.
5. Can Lakers Overcome the Challenge of the Bubble?
Instead of an asterisk, the winner of this NBA championship should receive a gold star for overcoming the challenges of the bubble. No fans, no home court advantage, and new play-in tournament have redefined the playoffs. The five month hiatus and unprecedented bubble conditions have made it impossible to predict who has advantages and who doesn’t as the teams scramble to to get ready for a playoffs like the NBA has never before seen.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ road to the Finals may end up going through the Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets, and Los Angeles Clippers so the Lakers will need legendary play and good luck to win the championship.
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