According to ESPN’s panel of basketball experts, the Lakers aren’t even in the top three of who they favor to win the title. In fact, to add further insult to the Purple and Gold organization, the Los Angeles Clippers are the overwhelming favorite to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy in 2020 with 54.5 percent of the first-place votes.
The Milwaukee Bucks were second in voting with 36.4 percent of the votes while the Philadelphia 76ers were able to garner 6.1 percent of the first-place votes. The Golden State Warriors even mustered 3.0 percent of the first-place votes.
Meanwhile, the Lakers didn’t receive a single first-place vote.
Here is the overall voting breakdown:
1. LA Clippers: 117 points (54.5% first-place votes)
2. Milwaukee Bucks: 85 points (36.4% first-place votes)
3. Philadelphia 76ers: 38 points (6.1% first-place votes)
4. Los Angeles Lakers: 29 points
5. Golden State Warriors: 15 points (3.0% first-place votes)
6. Houston Rockets: 11 points
7. Utah Jazz: 3 points
There really is no saving grace when it comes to the voting from the ESPN panel. Not only are they not high on the Lakers winning a championship, they’re not even high on the LeBron James and Anthony Davis-led roster in the regular season. In fact, they have them pegged as finishing fifth in the Western Conference — behind the likes of the Denver Nuggets, Clippers, Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz.
Here is how ESPN sees the Western Conference playoff race shaping up by the end of the season.
1. Denver Nuggets: 54-28
2. LA Clippers: 54-28
3. Houston Rockets: 53-29
4. Utah Jazz: 52-30
5. Los Angeles Lakers: 51-31
6. Golden State Warriors: 49-33
7. Portland Trail Blazers: 47-35
8. San Antonio Spurs: 43-39
ESPN Believes Lakers Won’t Have Any Chemistry
So let’s recap here. The 2019-20 Lakers will feature a number of proven veterans in LeBron, AD, Kyle Kuzma, Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee and Avery Bradley. Three of those veterans have won championships as starters while one of them — Howard — has single-handedly led a franchise to an NBA Finals and has been a member of many deep postseason runs.
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Bettors and Vegas clearly favor the Lakers as they’re the second-biggest favorite to win the championship — behind the Clippers — next season, according to Odds Shark.
But despite their amount of star power, ESPN feels the Lakers will have very little chemistry heading into the new season. In fact, they feel that the returning nucleus of the Denver Nuggets featuring Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray will reign supreme in the Western Conference during the regular season.
ESPN Believes Rockets Will Have More Chemistry Than Lakers
That part about the Nuggets is understandable. But what is hard to believe is that ESPN is so high on the new James Harden-Russell Westbrook pairing with the Houston Rockets, that they believe the Rockets will finish third in the West — just one game behind the top-seeded Nuggets and Clippers.
As we all know, Westbrook is one of the least efficient stars in the NBA — his true shooting percentage of 50.1 percent was by far the lowest among all players who ranked in the top 50 in PER rating — and there’s a major question regarding how two ball-dominant players will co-exist with one another.
The Jazz are a trendy pick in the West due to the offseason additions of Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic. But even with their stout defense and solid offseason additions, are we really going to predict they’re going to outgun a team led by two of the top stars in the NBA in LeBron and AD? This is a star-driven league after all.
There’s only one way to shut up all of the critics and that’s by actually winning games on the court — a task that the Lakers will have to face during the 2019-20 season.
It appears that despite having more star power than any other team in the NBA, the Lakers are going to face their share of doubters all season long.
Follow D.J. Siddiqi on Twitter @DJSiddiqi