All Eyes On Lakers As NBA Returns: Can LeBron James Snatch MVP Title From Giannis Antetokounmpo?
It’s probably not the way he pictured it happening, but LeBron James and the Lakers’ mission for a title, James’ fourth, hasn’t slowed down. Back when the season shut down in March the Lakers were on a roll. They had the Milwaukee Bucks, the team with the league’s best record, and the Kawhi Leonard led Clippers who had had the Lakers number up until that point in the season. James was even garnering more and more MVP buzz despite having no real statistical case over presumptive favorite Giannis Antetokounmpo the narrative, which drives an inordinate amount of MVP voting, was getting behind James with him averaging 30.0 points, 9.4 assists and 8.2 rebounds in the nine games after the All-Star Break. And honestly, I think if the league hadn’t shut down then LeBron may have been able to steal it away from Antetokounmpo who had suffered a knee injury in early March.
Despite this abrupt shunting of momentum, the Lakers may have been the team that benefited the most from this stop in action. With a four-month layoff, that basically equates to a full offseason, the scariest thing in the league is motivated and rested LeBron, who by all accounts was pushing hard for this restart. Another widely accepted rumor in league discussions is that the Lakers never really stopped practicing by getting access to empty gyms and, supposedly, practicing at a full-size replica of the Staples Center in a wealthy Los Angeles resident’s backyard – a rumor that was actually reiterated by Pelicans guard J.J. Redick who claimed to have worked out at there.
The Milwaukee Bucks were the presumptive favorites to win the championship with a 53-12 record and an otherworldly +11.2 point differential, with the Lakers and Clippers, considered contenders but not favorites. But now, with the four months off and the quick ramp-up time into the playoffs the Lakers hold a few clear advantages. For one, I must reiterate that LeBron is rested, but also, the Bucks are a very-good, deep team that have great chemistry but no world-beating star next to Giannis – apologies to Khris Middleton – while the Lakers rely less on team chemistry and more on their two-headed monster of James and Anthony Davis. It will be interesting to see how this plays out but expect the Lakers to coast during the eight seeding games, with the first-seed all but locked up, and to come out hard in the playoffs, knowing that LeBron is 35 and in year 17 of his career and this may be his last true chance at being the best player on a title team. The Lakers are serious contenders and with LeBron likely resting in a hyperbolic chamber and making a few Kobe Bryant-esque Germany trips, I wouldn’t bet against them.