Los Angeles Lakers: Predicting the Western Conference standings

Dec 11, 2020; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George (13) guards Los Angeles Lakers guard Alex Caruso (4) as he drives to the basket in the first half of the game at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 11, 2020; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George (13) guards Los Angeles Lakers guard Alex Caruso (4) as he drives to the basket in the first half of the game at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /
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(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) – Los Angeles Lakers
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) – Los Angeles Lakers /

The Los Angeles Lakers and the top-six:

6. Phoenix

The Suns were the only undefeated team in the Orlando bubble and barely missed qualifying for the postseason. Then they made one of the biggest splashes in the offseason when they traded for future Hall of Famer Chris Paul.

Although at age 35 Paul is not quite the player he once was, he still is one of the league’s premier point guards. And he will immediately combine with all-star Devin Booker to form one of the top starting backcourts in the league. CP3 should also prove helpful to center Deandre Ayton, an emerging star.

Supporting players like Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Cameron Johnson and Dario Saric will help determine just how far the team goes. This should be the best Suns team in many years.

5. Utah

The Jazz had a good off-season. They signed their best player, Donovan Mitchell, to a max contract, re-signed Jordan Clarkson and brought back Derrick Favors. Adding them to returnees Rudy Gobert, Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles makes a good first seven.

But that still might not be enough for more than modest improvement. Beyond those seven players, their bench looks rather thin. Conley was thought to be the point guard they needed, but he had a disappointing season that was limited by injury to just 41 games.

Utah is a good team and should certainly be in the playoff mix. But as good as Mitchell is, it’s hard to think of them as a legitimate championship contender.

4. Denver

The Nuggets showed their grit and determination in last season’s playoffs, becoming the first team to overcome 3-1 deficits twice in the same year, including a second-round comeback against the favored Clippers.

Their two best players, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, return along with veterans Paul Millsap, Gary Harris and Will Burton, and youngsters Michael Porter Jr, a break-out star in Orlando, and Bol Bol.

But they lost their two top perimeter defenders, Jerami Grant and Torrey Craig, and one of the league’s best back-up centers, Mason Plumlee. As a result, they may struggle a bit, especially at season’s beginning, but should once again be a playoff factor.

3. Portland

The Blazers were the second-best NBA team during the qualifying games in the bubble. When they beat the Lakers in the first game of the playoffs, many people (most notably Charles Barkley) smelled a first-round upset.

The Lakers went on, of course, to win the next four games, but Portland showed they belong. They then had a strong offseason, acquiring Robert Covington, Derrick Jones Jr, Enes Kanter and promising Harry Giles while re-signing Carmelo Anthony and Rodney Hood.

Their core still includes the fabulous backcourt of Damien Lillard, CJ McCollum and Gary Trent Jr, center Jusuf Nurcic and stretch big Zach Collins. This is a deep roster that should be one of the top teams in the West.

2. Los Angeles Clippers

Last time we saw the Clippers, they were squandering away a 3 games-to-1 lead against Denver. The franchise still has never advanced beyond the second round of the postseason.

The prevailing opinion was that the team needed additional leadership, especially at the point guard. In the offseason, they changed head coaches & centers, traded for an additional shooter, Luke Kennard, and signed Paul George to an extension. But they still have not added a new point guard- at least not yet.

The Clippers still have talent aplenty, beginning with star Kawhi Leonard, one of the league’s top players. Their new center, Serge Ibaka, checks all the right boxes. They will miss Montrezl Harrell’s contributions off the bench, but they still have Lou Williams, a prime-time scoring reserve. George has excellent all-around skills, although he is prone to inconsistency.

But raise your hand if you truly think this team is ready to take more than a possible small step forward to advance to the conference championship series and make a giant leap to a title.

1. Los Angeles Lakers

It’s rare that a championship team is as active in the off-season as were the Lakers. The Lakers brought in Dennis Schroder, Wes Matthews Jr, Marc Gasol, Montrezl Harrell and Alonzo McKinnie to replace Rajon Rondo, Danny Green, Dwight Howard, JaVale McGee and Avery Bradley.

The result is a stronger, deeper, younger, more versatile squad, particularly on the offensive end, than the one that just won the title. The Lakers may somewhat miss the shot-blocking of McGee and Howard, but neither played big roles in the postseason and were replaced by the multi-dimensional skills of Gasol and Harrell.

Naturally, LeBron James and Anthony Davis will still carry the largest loads, but each of the new players can contribute in different ways as will returnees Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Alex Caruso, Markieff Morris and second-year guard Talen Horton-Tucker, who has impressed everyone in camp.

Next. Players that are poised for a breakout season. dark

The Lakers are deservedly the pre-season favorites to repeat. NBA seasons can be notoriously fickle, particularly because of unpredictable injuries. But Coach Frank Vogel can utilize the talents of this squad in so many ways that the Lakers should not shrink from their status as pre-season favorites.