Editor’s note: Kyle Mangelson is a sophomore at St. Helena High School and a diehard basketball fan. His love for the NBA sparked an idea to create an Instagram account, @the.hoops.wire, which features original content and has gained more than 23,000 followers. “The Hoops Wire” will feature his commentary on the Warriors and the NBA, as a whole, as the season takes shape in the new year.
The playoffs are right around the corner and all odds are showing that the Los Angeles Lakers won’t be in them.
Trust me, there is no doubt it will be a struggle for not only LeBron James but the Lakers’ young core as well. Even though there is a very slim chance that the Lakers make the 8th seed, I have confidence that LeBron can put the team on his back, and carry them to the promise land.
Usually, around this time of year, LeBron is still laying back and taking his time with the regular season, saving his body for the playoffs. Although he isn’t giving 100 percent effort, he still can bring his team to a top seed in his respected conference. LeBron is just that good.
This season, however, that doesn’t seem to be the case. As of Tuesday, the Lakers sit in the 11th seed in the Western Conference. The Lakers are three games back of the San Antonio Spurs, who are currently the 8th and final seed in the playoff picture.
All odds aside, if anyone knows how to perform under pressure, it’s LeBron. “It’s been activated,” LeBron said last Wednesday when asked about the intensity needed to reach the playoffs. We’ve seen this flip of a switch before from LeBron. Often the reason LeBron doesn’t go full throttle in the regular season is that he is saving his body to turn up in the playoffs.
Now as great as LeBron is, he certainly cannot do it alone. Guys like Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Lonzo Ball, and JaVale McGee will have to step up and prove that they can be valuable assets. Proving this will be a tough task, as the Lakers have the 9th toughest schedule in the NBA for the rest of the season.
Let’s assume that LeBron pulls off a miracle and carries his team to the 8th seed and into the Western Conference playoffs. In the first round, the Lakers would most likely face the reigning champs in Golden State. No matter the outcome of that series, the Lakers young core playing in a playoff atmosphere and getting that experience is priceless. It would very much come in handy if the Lakers manage to acquire another all-star or two this offseason. This would give the Lakers a much greater chance to make the playoffs, and once they do, their young core would already have a bit of that experience under their belt.
Keep a very close eye on how LeBron performs in these final 22 games. If he manages to make the playoffs, I’d truly consider this a miracle.
Another topic of interest in the NBA community is who will come out of the Eastern Conference and likely face the Warriors in the NBA Finals. Realistically, it comes down to four teams: The Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers. It will be an arms race in the east come playoff time and I’ll be sure to watch as many of these matchups as possible.
In the meantime, let’s break down the logistics of this situation. The Bucks are my pick and probably the favorite at the moment to come out of the East. They hired former Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer this past offseason and his newly implemented five-out offense has been nothing short of an amazing fit.
Budenholzer has surrounded star player and MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo with elite shooters like Brook Lopez, Nikola Mirotic and Khris Middleton giving the 6-foot-11 forward/guard all the space he needs to penetrate the lane and get to the rack.
Giannis is likely the biggest reason for the Bucks recent success. He is currently entering his prime, and his having, dare I say it, an MVP season. He is no doubt my pick for this season’s MVP award. Yes, I’d take him over even James Harden and Paul George, who are both having incredible seasons in their own right.
The new look Toronto Raptors might have the best chances and could have the most pure talent in the East. The additions they have made over the last season have been a major reason for their success this year. Adding Kawhi Leonard at the expense of DeMar DeRozan was a great deal in my eyes. It gave the Raptors an excellent closer, scorer and arguably the best defender in the entire league all wrapped up in one player.
Marc Gasol was another key addition that gives them depth at the center position, (likely an attempt to slow down 76ers’ star center Joel Embiid if they face in the playoffs).
Lastly, Pascal Siakam is the frontrunner for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. After averaging 7.3 points and 4.3 rebounds last season as a reserve for the Raptors, he’s stepped up in a major way this season. He’s currently averaging 16.1 points, 7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game all while shooting 55 percent from the field.
The 76ers made possibly the biggest trade of the trade deadline earlier in February, sending role players like Landry Shamet and Wilson Chandler to the Los Angeles Clippers for Tobias Harris, a promising young wing player in the midst of a career year.. This gives the 76ers possibly the second-best starting five in the league with Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and Embiid.
Their most obvious issue is the Boston Celtics. It seems no matter what, the 76ers cannot seem to beat the Celtics. Even without their two best players in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward last season, the Celtics beat the 76ers in the playoffs in five games.
Odds are, the 76ers will have to face the Celtics at some point during the playoffs, and unless the 76ers draw up something completely new and unexpected, I just don’t see a way the 76ers make it past the Celtics.