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Pat Riley: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Lakers 'Got a Shot' to Make Championship Push

Adam WellsJanuary 24, 2023

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 30:  LeBron James #6 and Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers look on during the game against the Portland Trail Blazers on November 30, 2022 at Crypto.Com Arena in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)
Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Former Los Angeles Lakers head coach Pat Riley thinks the combination of LeBron James and Anthony Davis is enough to make the team a title contender this season.

Speaking to ESPN's Ramona Shelburne, Riley explained the Lakers can make some noise in the Western Conference if James keeps playing at his current level and Davis returns from his foot injury soon:

"That's where LeBron is. I'm not speaking to anything that he might say in the media, but that's his only reason to continue to play. Breaking the scoring record will be big for him if it happens, and it will happen. But he wants to win titles; that's what drives him. And so for him to continue to play at this level, with that hope that this team is going to come together out there and Anthony Davis gets back, I think they got a shot. I really do. And I believe he believes that too."

The Lakers are facing an uphill climb just to make the playoffs right now. They are in 12th place in the Western Conference, though there are only four games separating them from the No. 4 seed New Orleans Pelicans.

James has been on a tear in 10 games since he turned 38 on Dec. 30:

NBA Muse @NBAMuse24

LeBron James since turning 38 Years old:<br><br>35.1 PPG<br>9.6 RPG<br>7.6 APG<br>53.0 FG%<br>61.0 TS%<br>+93 +/-<br><br>7-3 Record. <a href="https://t.co/rwQXnidEfV">pic.twitter.com/rwQXnidEfV</a>

The Lakers have won seven of those 10 games, including victories over the Memphis Grizzlies and Sacramento Kings.

Davis has been out of action since suffering a stress injury in his foot during a Dec. 16 game against the Denver Nuggets. The Lakers have gone a respectable 9-8 without the eight-time All-Star.

Mark Medina of NBA.com reported Davis is making progress in his rehab and has targeted the Jan. 28 game against the Boston Celtics to return.

The Lakers are only 8-11 in 19 games with James and Davis in the lineup so far this season. Head coach Darvin Ham has done a good job of figuring out roles for players on this roster, most notably Russell Westbrook as the sixth man off the bench.

There are still enough limitations with this particular group of players to think it will be hard for the Lakers to be a strong contender if they make the playoffs. General manager Rob Pelinka can boost their odds by making moves ahead of the Feb. 9 trade deadline.

Rui Hachimura, who was acquired from the Washington Wizards on Monday, helps Los Angeles' frontcourt depth.

If there is a reason for optimism with the Lakers, they have two proven superstars playing at a high level when they are healthy. Behind the Nuggets and Grizzlies in the top two spots, there aren't many dominant teams in the Western Conference this season.

The defending champion Golden State Warriors are in 10th place with a 23-24 record. Their 6-18 mark on the road is the fourth-worst in the NBA, ahead of only the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons.

There hasn't been an NBA champion who won fewer than 50 games in an 82-game regular season since the 1994-95 Houston Rockets (47-35).