LeBron James In COVID Health & Safety Protocols | But Here Are Five Reasons Why The Lakers Are Still Championship Contenders

LeBron James is in the league’s COVID health and safety protocols and is expected to miss several games, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Tough blow for a Lakers team that was already struggling and dealing with LeBron’s absence due to injury. Now the team will have to bank some wins without the 36-year-old four-time MVP.

At 12-11, the Lakers would be a play-in team if the playoffs began today. They are 24th in adjusted net rating and have played the easiest schedule in the league so far. So even without James they should have a better record.

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But there is reason for optimism. Head coach Frank Vogel is preaching next man up.

“It’s an 82-game season,” Vogel said. “You’re going to have to deal with guys going in and out of the lineup. We’ve been without him some already this season. I feel like we’re further along with our cohesiveness now than we were the first time he went out with his ab strain.

Frank Vogel

You need someone steady to manage the emotions of an 82-game season and all its ups and downs. You also need someone with the right temperament to handle a LeBron James led team. See also: Ty Lue and Erik Spoelstra.

Vogel has proved all of that, and he’s a good coach. The Lakers were No. 1 and No. 3 in adjusted defensive rating the past two seasons under Vogel. They may not have the personnel to be top five, but they can be top 10.

Russell Westbrook

Yes, he has been bad to start the season. But we are seeing slight signs of improvement. His eFG% and TS% are at the level they were last season, and he is a net positive in estimated plus minus after being a net negative through most of the first quarter of the season.

The past two seasons in Houston and Washington Westbrook had a dramatic physical improvement over the course of the season. Maybe he repeats that?

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Anthony Davis

It wasn’t that long ago that Davis was dominating the 2020 NBA playoffs en route to his first title with the Lakers. This is a man all prognosticators saw as a future MVP and DPOY candidate.

From 2017-2020 he was at least in the 96th percentile of all NBA players in estimated plus minus. If Davis can get back to that level of play the Lakers will be more than fine.

LeBron James

This is his 19th season in the NBA, and there are a lot of miles on those tires. That’s why the injuries are happening more frequently.

But in his past four seasons, that’s ages 32-36, on the end of and out of his physical prime, he has been in at least the 98th percentile of all NBA players in estimated plus minus.

Simply put, when he’s on the floor his teams tend to win. He is top six all time in career win shares per 48 and top three in career win shares.

Which brings us to the final reason to be optimistic …

Injury Luck

As the word itself is defined, success or failure brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions. If you take the generous view you can say the Lakers’ injury luck has been bad.

Trevor Ariza and Kendrick Nunn have yet to play, and now with LeBron in the health and safety protocol it’s just all bad luck. Maybe they’ll deal with their poor injury luck in the early part of the season and by the end their fortunes will have changed?

Here’s the other thing: Injury luck isn’t exclusive to your team. It impacts all the other teams as well. The Denver Nuggets are going through horrendous injury luck right now. So are the Portland Trail Blazers.

Parts of three different NBA seasons have been played over the past 21 months. That’s a lot of basketball.

What other teams in the West will have to deal with bad injury luck this season?

It doesn’t look great at the moment if you’re a Lakers fan, but there is some reason for optimism.

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