Moore: Will the Lakers Make Playoffs? Analyzing the Prop Bet for LeBron James’ Postseason Push
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton (left), LeBron James (23).
- The Los Angeles Lakers start the second half of their season under .500 (28-29) with 25 games left before the end of the season.
- With the odds literally stacked against LeBron James making the playoffs this season, Matt Moore analyzes playoffs chances for the Lake Show.
The most fundamentally interesting question as the NBA resumes after the All-Star Break is one that we haven’t had to ask in over 13 years.
Will LeBron James make the playoffs?
The Lakers were 20-14 when James went down on Christmas Day against the Warriors. They trailed the Warriors, then No. 1 in the West, by just two games in the loss column, and the Nuggets by just four. They were playing at a 48-win pace.
Since then, they are 8-15, have fallen off the map defensively, lost to the Hawks and Cavaliers, were embroiled in trade controversy involving all of their players except LeBron James and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who has a no trade clause and is signed with Klutch sports, and had to have Magic Johnson come out to Philadelphia to try and smooth the waters.
Lonzo Ball still is not back, Luke Walton is surprisingly still around, and no one quite knows where James’ head is at. Oh, and Anthony Davis ain’t walkin’ through that door. OK, he might be, Rich Paul might just have him sit in the locker room at this point, but Davis isn’t playing for the Lakers this year.
The Lakers are two games back of the current No. 8-seeded Clippers entering Thursday with the Kings also ahead of them. The situation, as they say, is fraught.
So much so that the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has offered the following prop, the only will they/won’t they NBA playoff bet currently on their board:
Will Lakers make the playoffs? YES +115 | NO -135
Our own John Ewing ran the numbers and found there’s value on the “No” bet. Based on his projections, the Lakers would miss the playoffs 87.3% of the time.
But let’s go a little deeper.
The Lakers have the ninth-toughest remaining schedule at a .520 opponent win percentage, per Tankathon. They have 12 road games to 13 home games, and four back to backs.
When we get into the particulars is where that schedule toughens up even more.
They have some absolute soft serve in there, like games vs. the Pelicans (awkward), Grizzlies and the Suns, but Sixteen of their final 25 are against current playoff teams. They have two games left vs. the No. 1-seeded Bucks, two vs. the Utah Jazz who are going full-on for a mid-tier seed, and games vs. the Raptors, Thunder and Blazers.
I went through the schedule and decided that the Lakers should be favored in 12 of their final 25 games. That includes giving them the edge over the Pels, which is going to be pretty tight, and the Pistons on the road.
Much of this may simply come down to that last week. The Lakers play at Oklahoma City on April 2, with the Thunder likely still fighting for a top-four seed and homecourt, host the Warriors, who may have already clinched the top seed in the West, face the Clippers at Staples and then play at home vs. the Jazz and Trail Blazers to finish.
If the Jazz and Blazers have been locked into their seeds by those two final games, they may very well rest players, allowing the Lakers to roll at home and catch up. If those two are still fighting for spots and homecourt, which they very well may be, those games will be a lot tougher.
But much of this will come down to whether the Lakers can handle their business vs. teams they should beat. The Lakers are 16-10 vs. teams under .500 this season. That’s actually not as great a figure as it seems.
Many of those losses were without LeBron, but it also means they have very little margin for error. If they get caught napping vs. the Pelicans, the Grizzlies, or God forbid, the Suns or Kings, this gets exceptionally dicey in a hurry.
Their saving grace? It might be their competition. Bear in mind the Clippers moved their best player, Tobias Harris, at the deadline in a future-oriented trade package. Often-injured Danilo Gallinari and Lou Williams are trying to keep them afloat.
The Kings, meanwhile, are 16-21 vs. the West with 15 games remaining in-conference. The Kings are also 8-20 vs. teams over .500. There’s just a really good chance that what puts the Lakers in the playoffs is their competitors’ inability to close the deal.
The X-Factor in all this is James.
Lonzo Ball’s return is considered to be the saving grace for their defense, but it won’t return to form unless James spearheads their effort with renewed intensity.
LeBron is going to have to go playoff mode way earlier than he has in the past just to make it. Is he truly in that mindset?
I keep thinking of the 2011 Lakers, who even after going down 3-0 to the Mavericks, seemed utterly convinced they were fine. After all, they were the 2-time defending champs. No way they get swept.
Is James really aware of how much danger he’s in missing the playoffs and what that does to his legacy? Bear in mind this isn’t an outlier year in Cleveland or Miami. He started a new chapter with the most iconic franchise in the NBA. If his first year results in them missing the playoffs entirely — even with his injury — that shakes more than a few trees in the narrative around whether he has anything left to chase.
Does he bring it? Can he bring it? Will it matter?
I still lean towards the yes, based on what James has earned in the benefit of the doubt and the fact that prior to his injury, the Lakers were truly on pace to be a top-4 seed. I think the value, especially with plus money, is on the YES angle.
But man, is this going to be close.