The Los Angeles Lakers are quickly ascending up the Western Conference standings.
On Feb. 25, the Lakers sat in 13th place amidst the 15 teams in the conference. The following day, LeBron James hurt his foot in a gutsy, come-from-behind performance that was used to beat the Mavericks. He missed 13 straight games, and in that time the Lakers were able to rise to the 9th seed with an 8-5 record despite missing their leader.
He’s back, slowly but surely getting back into things, while a new leader has possibly emerged in Anthony Davis. He’s seemingly taking over the reigns over being the “1A” to LeBron’s “1B”, being awarded the Western Conference Player of the Week on Monday for the second time this season. In the past week, he led the Lakers to 3 straight wins behind his 38.7 points and 11.7 rebounds per game.
All of it has led to the Lakers being the Western Conference’s 7th seed heading into Tuesday, as they’ve jumped 6 spots in the standings in just 35 days late in the season. They now have a legit shot at obtaining the 6th seed by season’s end, which would mean they wouldn’t have to enter the play-in tournament that could quickly end their 2022-23 season.
Only half a game separates the Lakers between the current 6th-seed Warriors and 5th-seed Clippers. The Lakers will play the Clippers on Wednesday in an extremely important game, but first, they’ll have to visit the Jazz in Utah on Tuesday as part of the first night of a back-to-back.
Here’s what to look out for in that game.
Especially with that Clippers game, as well as a home game against the Phoenix Suns around the corner... we can be honest... it’s hard to get excited for this game on Tuesday vs. the Jazz.
Since being one of the early-season surprises when everyone thought Danny Ainge had assembled one of the best tanking rosters of all-time, the Jazz have slowly but surely shown themselves to actually be one of those tanking teams.
They’re 7-11 since the All-Star break with the 22nd-ranked net rating in that time, with first-time All-Star Lauri Markkanen being “injured” often in this last quarter of the season, missing random games here and there.
In addition to Markkanen missing some games to an injury that may or may not be that serious, Jordan Clarkson and Collin Sexton have both missed significant amounts of time, leading to our old friend Talen Horton-Tucker putting up some bonkers statlines — despite the performances not really leading to many wins.
The Jazz suffered another blow to their ability to win games over the weekend, after it was announced standout rookie big man Walker Kessler had entered concussion protocols, ending his 2022-23 season. Of course, this will only strengthen the Lakers’ chances of winning given the lack of elite rim protection that Kessler usually provided to the Jazz.
Despite it being the first night of a back-to-back with the much more important Clippers game looming, it seems as if the Lakers will let Davis and LeBron suit up in Utah on Tuesday to enjoy the first course of the four-course dinner they’re set to enjoy in this concluding week of the season.
With the Jazz still reeling, now without their breakout big man, expect AD to continue on his tear. Barring the Jazz getting some random returns from injured players or some weird 50-bomb from THT, don’t be surprised if the Lakers secure another lopsided victory like they did Sunday vs. the Rockets.
Notes and Updates
- Despite sitting out the second half of Sunday’s game vs. the Rockets, D’Angelo Russell (left foot soreness) will be probable for this game.
- Anthony Davis (right foot stress injury) will be probable while LeBron James (right foot soreness) will be questionable. We’ll see if LeBron ends up suiting up. He’s been questionable on the injury report for every game he’s ended up being active in since returning from injury.
- Mo Bamba (left ankle sprain) will remain out. Scotty Pippen Jr. is out as well (G-League play).
- The Jazz will be without Walker Kessler (concussion) as previously noted while Jordan Clarkson (left hand finger sprain) and Rudy Gay (low back soreness) will join him. Lauri Markkanen (left hand contusion) will be questionable.
- We may see another instance of a player returning from injury to play against the Lakers, as Collin Sexton (left hamstring strain) is listed as questionable. He’s missed the team’s last 18 straight games. Go figure...
The Lakers and Jazz will tip off at 6 p.m. PT. The game will be televised on Spectrum SportsNet.
You can follow Donny on Twitter at @donny_mchenry.