LeBron James and his Los Angeles Lakers secured the top seed in the NBA's Western Conference this season, which is a feat that should be lauded in what was a loaded year. Unfortunately, that won't provide the team with much of an advantage in the Orlando bubble. Given what they're missing and how they've played since the league restarted, the Lakers don't look like a championship-caliber team.
Los Angeles appeared to be peaking before the NBA shut down. James & Co. had won 12 of 14 games before the league hit the pause button. That included massive wins over the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers on March 6 and 8. The Lakers were clear title favorites at that point. Since returning to action, they haven't looked the same.
LA has gone 3-5 in the bubble, though it is worth pointing out they rested a number of guy in the final game of the regular season (Sacramento beat them 136-122). But it wasn't the Lakers' record that was concerning, it was the way they played. The team's offense was disjointed at best and painful to watch at worst. With Avery Bradley opting not the play in the bubble, the perimeter defense has taken a step back as well.
Now the Lakers are set to face Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers in the opening round of the playoffs. On paper, LA should win the series easily, but Lillard is hotter than a July in Arizona and the LA doesn't have a clear defensive match for him.
The Lakers' big problem all year has been a lack of consistent 3-point shooting and that's never been more clear than now. The Lakers rank 21st in the NBA in 3-point shooting as a squad (34.9 percent). Among playoff teams, that's fourth-worst, with only the Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic and Houston Rockets coming in lower. They also ranked dead last in 3-point shooting in the bubble, hitting just 30.3 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc.
Luckily for the Lakers, Kyle Kuzma has gotten hot in the bubble, shooting 44.4 percent from deep in Orlando. They'll need him to keep that up and also get Danny Green's shot to start falling if they want the offense to get going.
Can the Lakers still win a championship? Sure. They have James and Anthony Davis and a few solid rotation pieces. But the entire team's play will have to elevate to a higher level, and fast.
If the Lakers want to take home a title this year, Kuzma will have to emerge as a legitimate third option, Green will have to start hitting from deep and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will need to fill Bradley's shoes on defense. They'll likely also have to get a bench boost from guys like Dion Waiters, Alex Caruso and Markieff Morris as well.
That's a lot to ask of a lot of guys who haven't produced on a high level consistently all season.
The Lakers could still win an NBA championship this year, but they'll have to play a whole lot better than they have so far in Orlando.