Lakers are back as contenders

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Christmas is just around the corner, and the Los Angeles Lakers are once again looking like a championship-contending team, standing first in the NBA Western Conference with a 19-3 record.

Last Christmas, Lakers superstar LeBron James suffered an injury in a win against the Golden State Warriors, putting him out of commission for the next 17 games. The team’s dreams of a playoff run disappeared after losing 11 of their 17 games during James’s absence.  However, things are different this year, with multiple veterans and superstars helping the workload on both ends of the court.

One of the team’s biggest pickups this season was All-Star power forward Anthony Davis, who has greatly contributed to the Lakers’ success this season. James himself has improved his game at the age of 34, leading the league in assists and moving up positions in the all-time lists for other categories.

In addition, the strength of the Lakers bench has improved, with Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso and Rajon Rondo contributing more to the team compared to last season. If James and Davis continue to stay healthy, there’s no reason the Lakers won’t make a deep run in the playoffs this season.

However, one of the biggest problems the Lakers will face is reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antentokoumpo and the Milwaukee Bucks.

Currently having the same record as the Lakers and coming off of a thirteen-game win streak, the Bucks remain a powerhouse in the Eastern Conference and continue to stay hungry after losing in the Eastern Conference finals to eventual NBA champions Toronto Raptors last season. In addition, Antentokoumpo is putting up even greater numbers this season compared to last season, averaging 31 points and 13 rebounds per game, despite playing fewer minutes this season.

With the Warriors experiencing the loss of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant to injuries and trades, the former NBA championship team has fallen to the bottom of the Western Conference standings and doesn’t look anywhere near playoff potential, leaving an open window for the Lakers to strike and capitalize on.

Though the Warriors have fallen off, other Western Conference teams have been picking up speed. Some notable competition for the Lakers comes from the team they share the Staples Center court with.  The Clippers boast two great duos in the NBA: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George as well as Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. With two 19-plus point scorers coming off the bench in Harrell and Williams, their second unit can compare to some of the league’s starters.

This Lakers team has the potential to become our 2020 champions and even make history. But Christmas is also the season of surprises, and the Lakers have many more challenges to face before their trip to the playoffs.