LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers are in position to make a serious run at successfully defending their 2020 NBA championship with a 22-10 record with five games left in the first half of the regular season.
Along with that superstar tandem, L.A. has also received strong production from Dennis Schroder and Montrezl Harrell, two of the front office's offseason additions to fortify the star-studded roster. Getting through the remainder of the campaign healthy after Davis' recent injury is crucial to postseason success.
Let's check out all of the important details following the NBA's release of the second half of the 2020-21 schedule, which was split up to leave flexibility amid the coronavirus pandemic. The midseason break is slated to run March 5-10.
2020-21 Lakers Schedule Details
Second-Half Opener: March 12 vs. Indiana Pacers at 10:30 p.m. ET
Championship Odds: +270 (via FanDuel) (bet $100 to win $270)
Complete Schedule: NBA.com
Los Angeles Clippers (April 4, May 6)
The highly anticipated playoff matchup between the Lakers and Clippers never materialized last season, but there's again a strong chance the battle of L.A. takes center stage this year.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have both been playing at an All-NBA level, and the team's increased depth compared to last season gives it a better chance to successfully navigate the ups and downs associated with a long postseason run.
The remaining games for the Lakers and Clippers in the second half could prove crucial for playoff seeding, which will be important in terms of securing home-court advantage for as long as possible, though the impact is negligible if they have a head-to-head face off along the way.
Both teams will need to play really well down the stretch to take the top two seeds in the highly competitive West.
Utah Jazz (April 17, April 19)
The Jazz haven't received a ton of attention during the season's first half, but every high-profile win brings them one step closer to emerging as a legit title threat.
What makes Utah so intriguing is the wide range of ways it can beat you. It ranks in the top five of both offensive and defensive efficiency (via ESPN), and the number of scoring options behind Donovan Mitchell creates a tricky matchup for any team in the NBA.
The Jazz looked dangerous last year, too. They blew a 3-1 series lead in the opening round against the Denver Nuggets, but those type of disappointments often lead teams to come back stronger the next season, and that's been the case for Mitchell and Co.
So, while the focus for the Lakers' journey toward another title has typically been the Clippers and the Brooklyn Nets, the Jazz can't be overlooked.
Los Angeles, which won the 2020 title in mid-October and started the new season in late December, will spend the season's second half trying to balance its pursuit of the top seed with the need to keep its stars rested and healthy for the postseason.
"It's a fine line now with how much we push, how much rest and also stay in good rhythm," James told reporters in January. "Because myself and our team, we built so much great rhythm in the bubble that we want to try to continue that as much as we can."
Being rested is the more important factor, but the Lakers also don't want to risk sliding down the West standings to the point where they could find themselves as the road team in the second round.
It's a balancing act made more difficult by the NBA's condensed schedule, which doesn't provide many chances for creating an extended rest by sitting out just one game.
The bottom line is the Lakers are likely to do everything in their power to at least earn a top-two seed. So, the 52-win projection below is based on that pursuit; if they need to win a couple of extra games, they likely will. If they're in good shape late, they might take a few extra losses while resting.
As a whole, there's been nothing to suggest L.A. should be considered anything other than the favorite to win a second straight title come July. It faces a lot of high-end competition, though.
Record Prediction: 52-20
Must be 21+ and present in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, West Virginia, Colorado, or Tennessee. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER. See sportsbook.fanduel.com for details.