LeBron James has been an iron-man throughout his 18-year career in the NBA, playing in over 90% of the regular season games and never missing a playoff game. And, with 260, he holds the record for most NBA playoff games played. James has dealt with many injuries in his career but his commitment to his body and the game has always led to a speedy recovery or playing through the injury. James’s availability for his team has been one of his best attributes, which is saying a lot for the King of basketball.
How much does the NBA landscape change when the it’s undoubted most valuable player (not talking about the award) went down screaming in pain on Saturday night in the Los Angeles Lakers 99-94 loss to the Atlanta Hawks. The 17x All-Star was later diagnosed with a high-ankle sprain and the timeline on his return is still up in the air.
LeBron shouldn’t have 8, 9 or 10 MVPs like Kuzma said… but he should have 7.
Here are the 3 he should’ve won. https://t.co/aayVOECqyh
— nick wright (@getnickwright) March 19, 2021
LeBron Off For Undetermined Time
There are roughly 30 games left in the 20’-21’ season because the NBA decided to go to a shortened 72-game schedule this year. If LeBron misses a few weeks the whole landscape of the NBA will change. The MVP race will change and the Western Conference standing will most-definitely change.
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Is it a good time to place some NBA future bets on the MVP race or the winner of the Western Conference? The Lakers were a heavy favorite to once again make it to the Finals, but does that change if they are a fourth-seed or even lower? Or even worse, what happens if Anthony Davis or James cannot fully recover from their injuries in time for a playoff run?
Let’s assume James misses 8-12 games and look at the Western Conference betting and how it may shake out. Then you can place your bets on your new favorite to win the West. I will predict where teams will end up in the standings using a strength of schedule from power ranking guru.
No. 1 Utah Jazz (30-11)
Strength of Schedule: 30th (easiest)
- Wed, Mar. 24 vs Brooklyn
- Mon, April 5 @ Dallas
- Wed, April 7 @ Phoenix
- Two games with the Lakers on April 17 – 19
The Utah Jazz currently have the best record in the NBA and are 2.5 games ahead of the Suns and the Lakers. The combination of All-Star G Donovin Mitchell and C Rudy Gobert with a deep supporting cast has made the Jazz a tough team to beat on any given night. Players like Mike Conley, Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles have really helped this team take the leap into a true contender.
Random Saturday morning stat: Joe Ingles (currently shooting 54% overall/49% on 3s/66% on 2s/89% at the line) is on pace for the highest single-season true-shooting % in NBA history, per a @bball_ref data dive.
— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) March 20, 2021
Utah has the easiest strength of schedule left in the NBA. They do have two games remaining with the Suns, Lakers, and Trail Blazers and one with the Nuggets. There are signs of some midseason funk and a coming down to earth for the Jazz which opens the door for some of the teams behind them to catch them.
Final seed prediction — No. 1
No. 2 Phoenix Suns (28-13)
Strength of schedule: 10th
- Mon, April 19 @ Milwaukee
- Wed, April 21 @ Philadelphia
- Thu, April 22 @ Boston
- Sun, April 25 @ Brooklyn
- Mon, April 26 @ New York
Chris Paul has proven his worth once again, by taking a team that was outside the playoffs and quickly made them a contender. Devin Booker has continued his climb to becoming a superstar in the league with the help of Paul. C Deandre Ayton has developed into one of the most consistent centers this season and he provides this team with rim protection and some scoring in the paint.
The Phoenix Suns have a brutal road trip out east in late April. The five-game stretch, that includes two back-to-backs, is with five of the top-eight teams in the Eastern Conference. It will be a great measuring stick for the Suns as they take-on some of the best in the East. When they finish the five-game-stretch there will only be three weeks left in the regular season.
Final Seed Prediction – No. 2
No. 3 Los Angeles Lakers (28-15)
Strength of schedule: 6th
- Thu, Mar 25 vs Philadelphia
- Wed, Mar 31 vs Milwaukee
- Sun, April 4 @ LA Clippers
- Sat, April 10 @ Brooklyn
The Lakers most recent loss to the Hawks ended a four-game winning streak and dropped them out of second in the West. The next few weeks for the Lakers are going to be huge for their season. L.A. is only 2.5-games ahead of the six seeded Trail Blazers. The Lakers are going to have to find ways to get some wins without AD or LBJ which could prove to be pretty difficult against teams like the 76ers and the Bucks. Luckily, between the games listed above they play some of the worst competition in the league in the Cavs, Magic and Kings.
If somehow the Lakers can be around .500 without their stars they will be able to make a run when they get them back which could keep them in the top of the West. If they go on a horrible losing streak and James or Davis takes longer to return than expected then this team could be in trouble. But honestly, if James and Davis are healthy come playoff time, I do not think it will matter much what seed they are — they will be the favorites to win the West.
Simply put, the Lakers have been a negative team without LeBron James this season. pic.twitter.com/IYjN1xlrc4
— Kirk Goldsberry (@kirkgoldsberry) March 21, 2021
Final Seed Prediction – No. 6
No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers (27-16)
Strength of schedule: 16th
- Thu, April 1 vs Denver
- Sun, April 4 vs Los Angeles
- Tue, April 6 vs Portland
- Thu, April 8 vs Phoenix
The LA Clippers have been one of the most inconsistent ‘good’ teams in the NBA this season. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have to find more ways to elevate their teammates to make a run in the playoffs. The Clippers have one of the best rosters in the West but they do not show up each night ready to play. The Clippers have the team to beat the Lakers in a seven game series because they have two of the best wing defenders in the game. The combination of George and Leonard have the rare ability to slow down James for an entire series.
The Clippers probably want to try and avoid playing the Lakers in the first round even though they have the best chance to beat them. It is hard to tell if the Clippers will show their true potential before the playoffs or if they will sit in the middle of the pack longer. The Clippers are the best 3-point shooting team in the NBA and that makes them dangerous on any given night.
— FOX Sports West (@FoxSportsWest) March 16, 2021
Final Seed Prediction – No. 4
No. 5 Denver Nuggets (25-17)
Strength of schedule: 18th
- Sat, May 1 @ LA
- Mon, May 3 @ Los Angeles
- Fri, May 7 @ Utah
- Sat, May 8 vs Brooklyn
Nikola Jokic is now my favorite to win MVP if James misses extended time. The ‘Joker’ can do it all and he has proven to be a matchup problem for most teams. Jokic’s rare mixture of size and skill away from the basket makes him a nightly triple-double threat. Jamal Murray is the perfect No. 2 option and clutch shooter at the end of the games. Michael Porter Jr. is developing nicely into the third option. The issue with this team is that after that there is not enough to threaten some of the best teams in the West.
If and when Denver adds some more depth or another start the Nuggets will be scary. With the trade deadline right around the corner I expect Denver to make a move. A solid SG or PF would make this team a better version of the Jazz. The Denver Nuggets have won 8 of 10 and are looking to move up the standings to make things easier for them come playoff time. Watch out for the Nuggets down the stretch, if they are able to bring in another piece.
Final Seed Prediction – No. 3
No. 6 Portland Trail Blazers (25-17)
Strength of schedule: 2nd
- Two games with Brooklyn
- Two games with Clippers
- Fri, Apr 2 vs Milwaukee
Damien Lillard is just getting going and his team is finally healthy for the home stretch before the playoffs. The Blazers have the second toughest schedule the rest of the way but they have a heating up All-Star back-court. No-one (except a healthy Lakers) wants to play this team in the playoffs. Lillard and C.J. McCollum can take over and win a series against mostly any organization.
The Portland Trail Blazers remaining schedule is full of tough games, but like I mentioned above, they are healthy and heating up. They are also looking to add another piece to their lineup which could help put them near the top of the West. A sneaky bet to win the Western Conference is the team from Portland. It is sneaky because they are receiving +2600 odds which is right above the Warriors, and in my eyes they have a much better shot than that.
Final Seed Prediction – No. 5
Western Conference Betting Predictions
Pump the breaks, all this talk about the Lakers falling down the standings which will make it harder for them to make it to the Finals is not valid. The West is deep. The top six teams and I could add in the Dallas Mavericks with a healthy Porzingis are all tough. The Lakers road to defending the title was never going to be easy.
Some early thoughts on the Lakers coming out of LeBron James’ injury/absence.
I find this interesting:
Lakers w/o James: -3.1 net rating
Lakers w/o James and Davis: -3.3 net rating
Lakers w/ Davis and no James: -5.9 net rating
— Jovan Buha (@jovanbuha) March 21, 2021
I say put money on the Lakers once their online betting odds ultimately fall to win the West, after a week or two of losing without their stars. Let the media overreact and let the easy money roll in. The Lakers were the second seed without Davis for almost half of the season. The best player in the world, LeBron James, will be ready come playoff time, and I expect Davis to also be firing on all cylinders, and if I am right the Lakers are then head and shoulders better than the rest of the competition in the West in a seven game series.