2nd half storylines for the Lakers: Davis’ injury, LeBron’s race for 5th MVP, and reinforcements

After the shortest offseason in NBA history and a marathon of a schedule that is essentially every-other-day, the Lakers needed the all star break more than any other team. They limped into the break, but all things considered the first half of the season was a success.

Los Angeles has the league’s fifth-best record, sixth-best point differential and sixth-best net rating despite Anthony Davis missing 14 of its 37 games.

The second half of Los Angeles’ season kicks off Friday against the Indiana Pacers, so let’s put the first half behind us and look ahead to the storylines that are to come.

Anthony Davis Injury Status

Davis’ calf and Achilles injuries loom over the Lakers’ season, and, to a larger extent, the rest of the NBA season. His health and availability can swing the title race. None of the other contenders have a wild card this significant.

If Davis’ can not fully recover and

Really, nothing else matters for the Lakers. We can nitpick the 3-point shooting and rim protection, which we’ll dig into a little later, but if Davis isn’t able to fully recover and be the top 5 player that he is, the Lakers title hopes are essentially over.

Davis’ return remains unknown. We’re approaching the four-week mark of when he was supposed to be re-evaluated, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be back soon. It wouldn’t be shocking if the Lakers take a conservative approach with his return and keep him out for at least a couple more weeks.

The short-term concern is that the Lakers are 3-6 since Davis re-injured his calf/achilles on February 14th. The importance of playoff seeding is subjective, but it still matters, to some extent. Davis’ continued absence could knock the Lakers from the No. 3 seed into the No. 4 or No. 5 spot.

Nothing a fully healthy Lakers team care about, but it matters more than it did a year ago inside the bubble. By the time the playoffs come around maybe there’s fans allowed at Staples Center for a Lakers home playoff game, the first since 2013.

With that said, the Lakers shouldn’t truly need Davis back until at least late March. Indiana, Golden State, Minnesota, Charlotte and Atlanta are the teams the Lakers are scheduled against out of the break. Not all that daunting. LeBron and the role players should be enough to get by.


Speaking of LeBron and role players, we can’t help but address the fact that he is in a race for league MVP for the work he’s done in Davis’ absence.

The precedent throughout NBA history is that the MVP comes from a top-three, if not top-two, seed in their respective conference. There are exceptions, such as Russell Westbrook in 2016-17, but that is the typical standard.

As of right now, the clearest contenders for a top-three seed in their conference are, in some order, the Lakers, 76ers, Bucks, Nets, Jazz, Suns and Clippers. Among that group, Embiid, is the only player who is clearly ahead of LeBron in the MVP race.

Other top candidates, such as Nikola Jokic, Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard, likely won’t win enough games to be considered for the No. 1 spot.

The MVP might come down to availability. If Joel Embiid can remain on the floor for the remainder of the season, and the 76ers are a top 2 seed, I think he snags the award for the first time. But if he misses time, which is always a possibility for the big man, the door opens for LeBron to creep ahead of him down the stretch. This is his best chance at winning his fifth MVP, which would elevate him into rarefied air with Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Russell. So you know he is going to go after this as long as it is attainable.

Reinforcements on the way?

Most contending teams will tinker with their roster, trying to solidify it for their playoff run. The Lakers are no different.

The Marc Gasol idea appears to be better in theory than it is on the court. Gasol is well past his prime and offers minimal outside of playmaking at this stage of his career. The Lakers are desperately missing the athletic center which they had last year in JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard. If their ten day contract to Damian Jones was any indication of the future, expect the Lakers to target an athletic center. Who knows we may see McGee back in the purple and gold by weeks end.

At the same time, the Lakers could also use a shooting upgrade, particularly in the form of a 3-and-D wing who shoots better than Kyle Kuzma (36.5 %), Wesley Matthews (33.7%) or Talen Horton-Tucker (28.6%). Trade and/or buyout candidates could include P.J. Tucker, Trevor Ariza and Rudy Gay.

With two flexible roster spots, the Lakers could address both positional needs via the buyout market.

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