LeBron James, the NBA’s biggest star, is playing for one of its most storied franchise — but will it lead to a deep run in the playoffs?
After considering James’ career performance against every team, we can get a clearer picture of possible answers to these questions.
For James’ career performance to have meaning for projecting next season's achievements, it is assumed that the 2018-19 Lakers team is approximately as good as the average team James has been on. I would consider this accurate as it is difficult to imagine this Lakers team being worse than the Cleveland Cavaliers team with Anderson Varejao, Drew Gooden and Zydrunas Ilgauskas or better than Miami Heat's and Cavs' championship teams boasting players such as Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade or Kevin Love.
Entering this season, James has played a total of 1,382 NBA games (including playoffs) and is an impressive 917-465 all-time. It is interesting to note that James has a net losing record against only four franchises: San Antonio, Golden State, Houston and Denver. Of all franchises, six of the seven lowest winning percentages James has are against Western Conference teams. James has also won nearly 10 percent less when facing Western foes than Eastern foes, with winning records of 60 percent and 69.5 percent, respectively.
The average season for James has resulted in a 54-28 record by winning 18 games against Western teams and 36 against Eastern teams. Applying James’ average record against each conference with the Western schedule would result in a record of 52-32 with 31 wins against West foes and 21 against Eastern conference foes.
InfogramWhile this only results in a two-game drop, you must also factor in the increased difficulty of back-to-back games and the wear and tear of facing more Western teams. Winning on the second day of a back-to-back is much easier when the teams are Charlotte and Brooklyn and become more difficult when the teams are Houston and San Antonio. Odds of facing Western teams on the second night of a back-to-back are 73 percent more likely for James now that he has gone west.
Consider combining this with the fatigue factor of facing more Western teams in a difficult conference.
Of the 15 players named to All-NBA honors last season, 10 play for Western Conference teams. Additionally, nearly every Western lottery team last season got better by either acquiring new talent (such as Dallas) or recovering players from injury (Denver and Memphis). Even playoff teams such as Golden State and Houston bettered themselves with key all-star additions.
It isn’t crazy to think that the average James regular season record of 54-28 could easily drop six or even eight games, signaling a 46 to 48 win season.
Would this be enough wins to make the playoffs? It might.
Then again, it might not.
While Oklahoma City got home court with a 48-win season in 2018, Golden State also had 48 wins in 2008 and missed the playoffs. Saying James will miss the playoffs completely may be a hard sell.
If the Lakers are close to the cutoff mark in March, James could propel the Lakers to the postseason on his own merits as he has proved capable in seasons past. However, assuming the Lakers will finish in the top four of the West and enjoy a first-round home court advantage may be just as much of a stretch. Most analysts agree Houston and Golden State are two top-four teams. If this is the case, that only leaves two spots left in the top four with teams such as the Thunder, Jazz, Pelicans, Spurs, and Nuggets with legitimate shots.
Based on the performance James has had against every NBA team and projecting that information to next season, I estimate the Lakers will be 48-34 this season, probably good enough for a seed somewhere around No. 5 to No. 8.
While that may be only an estimate, one thing is certain: the 2019-20 NBA season will be a lot of fun.
Editor's note: All statistical information in this story was found at https://www.basketball-reference.com