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Lakers newsletter: Let’s get real, the Lakers are about to lose a lot of games

Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis
(Chris Graythen / Getty Images)

Welcome to the latest edition of the L.A. Times’ Lakers newsletter, the one email you’ll get today with bad news because everything else on the internet in 2021 has been just too sunny for my liking.

I’m Dan Woike, the Lakers beat writer, and while, hey, I’m excited to see how Andre Drummond looks when he makes his debut tonight against the Bucks, I’m a realist. You should be too.

Getting real

Things are about to get pretty rocky again.

The Lakers are about to lose a lot of games – this doesn’t feel like some bold prediction, not after watching them stumble through most of the last week or so without LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Yeah, they beat Cleveland. Yeah, they beat Orlando. But things are about to ramp up beginning with the Bucks, a 25-day stretch where the Lakers play 13 times. Eleven of those games are against teams currently in the top eight of their conferences, with the red-hot Sacramento Kings and the Toronto/Tampa Raptors as the two exceptions.

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So yeah, the standings might get a little ugly.

But everyone still agrees on this truth – the Lakers are going to be fine if LeBron James and Anthony Davis are healthy. And if they’re not…well, they’re sunk.

Still, it’s worth taking a look at the teams in the West that seem the scariest, the roadblocks that even a healthy Lakers’ roster could struggle with. And for fun, I ranked ‘em.

Los Angeles Clippers

Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) keeps the ball away from Brooklyn Nets.
Kawhi Leonard
(ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Let’s ignore Tuesday’s loss to the Orlando Magic, which came with four starters missing from the lineup and the team coming off a back-to-back.

In the 10 games before, no team in the NBA has had a better net rating, the Clippers’ offense firing at an absurd rate while their defense has finally shown signs of catching up. And they’ve been doing it with Patrick Beverley and Serge Ibaka out. (Tuesday’s stinker dropped the Clippers to third in net rating of their last 10).

Terence Mann has blossomed into an incredibly useful rotation piece, and Rajon Rondo is lurking. While people didn’t like that trade on its face, Clippers insiders believe Rondo’s leadership and calm in the postseason matter more than Lou Williams’ ability to get a bucket.

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have the star power. Leonard, Ibaka and Rondo (and Tyronn Lue) have the experience. At full strength, this is a team built to win a title.

Denver Nuggets

There wasn’t a better trade made at the deadline than the Nuggets acquisition of Aaron Gordon. Denver picked up the athletic wing without sacrificing key pieces or their best young assets, adding a perfect player in their push against the Lakers.

There aren’t many players in the NBA who can guard LeBron James and Anthony Davis – the jobs are so distinct and require combinations of size, speed, athleticism and smarts. Gordon’s one of the few who can compete credibly with the Lakers’ stars (and the Clippers’ stars for that matter).

It gives the Nuggets the kind of defender (and then some) that they lost when Jerami Grant bolted for Detroit this past offseason. Nikola Jokic is probably going to win the MVP (I think I’d lean Harden, but so many voters have written him off), and he’s going to be even better this postseason after last year’s trip to the conference finals.

My one holdup with Denver is Jamal Murray, a player that’s obviously explosive enough to carry them from stretches, but one that’s inconsistent enough to disappear for a half.

Utah Jazz

Donovan Mitchell
(ASSOCIATED PRESS)

I’m probably undervaluing the Utah Jazz because of the general rule that you always roll with the team with the best player in a playoff series. And the Utah Jazz could end up being on the other end of that rule in each round they play.

But they’re a team with tons of ways to beat you. In the last 10 games, they’ve got the fifth-best offense and the third-best defense. Donovan Mitchell has gotten on track after a little bit of a slow start.

And while they were quiet at the trade deadline, why would they try to fix what’s not broken? But I’ve had more than one NBA scout/executive type tell me that they think this season ends with the Jazz unfairly ending up with a team like the Lakers in the first or second round.

Portland Trail Blazers

I really liked the Norm Powell trade, even if Gary Trent Jr. had earned his place in Portland’s rotation since really settling in during the bubble. Powell’s experienced and a more explosive scorer.

But the reason Portland should be worrisome is another frontrunner for MVP – Damian Lillard. When you watch him play, you can talk yourself into him doing anything and you feel like he’ll win with Portland sooner or later.

C.J. McCollum is back, Jusuf Nurkic is too and the depth the Trail Blazers cultivated while those starters were out should be valuable in the postseason.

Phoenix Suns

I think there’s a pretty big gap in terms of “scare-factor” between Portland and Phoenix for me despite the Suns’ terrific season.

Chris Paul has been kind of a cursed figure when it comes to the postseason, and that could be clouding my judgment here. But the Suns feel more like a tough out than a team ready to play in the Finals.

Dallas Mavericks/Golden State Warriors

Luka Doncic
Luka Doncic
(ASSOCIATED PRESS)

If things really bottom out for the Lakers and they find themselves in the play-in tournament, what could possibly be scarier than a winner-takes-all game against Luka Doncic? Maybe a winner-takes-all game against Steph Curry?

Best to watch that No. 7 spot in the standings – even healthy, no one should want any part of that play-in tournament.

We got text

Are you a full-court text subscriber? We’ve been talking about trades, injuries and trades stemming from a bunch of injuries. Sign up here and get direct access to me via text.

Song of the Week

"Madness" by Muse

“Madness” by Muse

One last jam for March, as the NCAA Tournament has helped launch some future NBA stars like Evan Mobley. (Fun note – I’ve actually seen a show at Olympic Stadium in Rome – Pearl Jam in 2018).

Did you miss this?

Lakers’ big challenge: How does Andre Drummond fit, and who’s the odd man out?

Marc Gasol says COVID-19 illness put basketball in perspective

Andre Drummond on joining Lakers: ‘I’m not here to do anything besides win’

Until next time...

As always, pass along your thoughts to me at daniel.woike@latimes.com, and please consider subscribing if you like our work!


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