Brace yourselves, Lakers fans. It might be a long year. Fans started planning the parade as soon as Lebron joined the team, but last year showed that they still have a LOT of work to do. Did they improve this year or is it going to be more of the same?
We’re not saying every team on this list is going to trounce the Lakers this year, but we’re saying they have a decent chance thanks to star players, improved performances or even just because they seem to have luck on their side. Plus, Lebron may be past his peak and on the decline and might not gel well with his current teammates. There are also some interesting scheduling factors that could give the Lakers some back-to-back losses.
You might not like hearing this, but the Lakers are far from a sure thing this season or any other. Let us count the ways.
20 Los Angeles Clippers
The Lakers notched an opening-night loss to the Clippers, which feels like it might be a sign of things to come. They followed it up by putting the Warriors in their place as well. A surprising loss to the Suns shouldn’t be enough to dim the Clippers’ spirits. We’ll have to wait and see if the Clippers reach even greater heights after Paul George takes to the court.
19 Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets did well for themselves during opening week, including a triumph over the Trail Blazers that felt like sweet revenge. Their offense has been popping recently, and the team has a lot of talent to juggle now that Michael Porter Jr. and Jerami Grant are back in the rotation.
18 Milwaukee Bucks
Last season saw the Bucks turn in the best scoring margin and overall record. And during the preseason, the Bucks continued to stake out their place in the top echelons of NBA teams. It’s not hard to see why, with the 2018-2019 Kia MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, on their side.
17 Houston Rockets
The Rockets traded an arm and a leg for Russell Westbrook, and so far he’s lived up to the sky-high expectations, with 13 rebounds and 10 assists per game. The only thing putting a slight damper on Westbrook's high-energy performance is the recently lackluster James Harden. But once Harden’s back to his usual self, there might be no stopping this team.
16 Philadelphia 76ers
Their opening victory over the Celtics certainly seems to have set the tone for the 76ers. New addition Al Horford proved his mettle when he led the 76ers to victory against the Pistons. And this was without the help of Joel Embiid, who was out with a sprained right ankle. Then there’s rising star Matisse Thybulle, who looks ready to shake things up.
15 Minnesota Timberwolves
The Timberwolves’ remarkable 3-0 success so far is thanks to their well-balanced team, great chemistry and, of course, the talents of Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns started his fifth season in rare form with 32 points, 13.3 rebounds and three steals per game. Then there’s Andrew Wiggins, who’s regularly turning heads and earning praise. If they can sustain all of this, the ‘Wolves are in great shape.
14 Phoenix Suns
The Suns have had a mixed bag lately when it comes to luck — a redoubtable win against the Kings, then a loss to Denver in overtime, then another blowout, this time against the Clippers. That triumph against the Clippers happened even without Ricky Rubio and Deandre Ayton in the mix, meaning this team might have some real sustainability on their hands this season.
13 Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks have been posting some huge numbers thanks to Trae Young, who looks like he hasn’t lost any of his momentum from last season. But scoring big isn’t enough — they’ve also been keeping their adversaries, the Pistons and Magic, well at bay by holding them to just 100 and 99 points, respectively. The Hawks have a solid chance of making the playoffs if they keep it up.
12 Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz had some people worried about their defensive chops in the preseason, but a win against the Kings seems to have given them some of their swagger back. They still have some kinks to work out, notably with Mike Conley’s below-average performance, but it would be a mistake to discount the shooting and playmaking talent in their starting lineup.
11 San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs’ $64 million extension with Dejounte Murray looks to have paid off. Murray sat last season out because of an injured knee, but he’s back swinging as one of the more noteworthy defensive point guards. The Spurs’ early 2-0 record is encouraging, but they’ll have to keep it up against more intimidating teams than the Wizards and the Knicks.
10 Boston Celtics
The Celtics have four players averaging 16 points every game, which is a good sign. Things didn’t start that well, with a swing and a miss against the 76ers, but the Celtics found their mojo again quickly enough by defeating the Knicks and the Raptors. The team is already clearly missing Al Horford, but they’ve got other heavy hitters who’re looking to take up the mantle.
9 Miami Heat
The Miami Heat traded their star player, Josh Richardson, for another: Jimmy Butler. The Heat delivered a solid, if unremarkable, victory in the opener against the Grizzles, and that was without Butler — he was busy becoming a father. An on-the-road win against Milwaukee means the team can still get it done even with some of their most chatter-worthy players missing in action.
8 Dallas Mavericks
It’s still early, but the Mavericks may have not one, but two, aces up their sleeves: Kristaps Porzingis and Luka Doncic. Both stand among the top 10 highest-scoring NBA players at this stage. The two have solid chemistry with one another, but we’ll have to wait and see how well this dynamic duo meshes with the rest of the team as the season continues.
7 Toronto Raptors
These returning champions began their season with two wins and a loss. The team’s most-improved player, Pascal Siakam, has a lot to prove — but he has an excellent lineup beside him. There’s been some debate about whether losing Kawhi Leonard was worth it, but signs so far point to “yes.”
6 Orlando Magic
We’re in the long-shot territory by now, of course, but there’s no reason to count out Orlando — even if their record in the preseason was a bit of a head-scratcher. The team played on the road for their first three games and won 11 of 12 quarters. They proceeded to win only one out of the following 12 quarters across the last three games in the preseason. The team is more than solid when it’s in good health, though, so here’s hoping their recent run of injury problems abates quickly.
5 Portland Trail Blazers
The Trail Blazers lost there starting forwards from last season, which means the team has some rebalancing and refocusing to do concerning their defense. Portland has a proud history of making the playoffs, and can reliably turn in around 50 wins per season. Zach Collins is at risk of missing more time due to a left shoulder injury, but the team will be on good footing if their front line can keep it together.
4 Brooklyn Nets
Brooklyn has a nasty habit of bungling the fourth quarter and squandering healthy leads. If that weren’t the case, they’d likely rank higher on our list. You’d have to be a fool to ignore Kyrie Irving, though, who turned in one of the best debuts in recent memory. The Nets should have done better in their first three games, but maybe it’s only bad luck — the team still has a huge amount of potential.
3 Detroit Pistons
A season-opening triumph over the Pacers set a good tone, but they stumbled afterward by losing to the 76ers and the Hawks. It’s been rough not having Blake Griffin around to do his thing, but Derrick Rose and Andre Drummond have been pulling their expensive weight. The Pistons turned in an opening-night victory but gave up their momentum in losses to the Hawks and the 76ers. If they get their defense where it should be and learn to live without Griffin for a little longer, they have a shot.
2 Golden State Warriors
The Warriors are worth a mention because they can only improve from here — and they may yet surprise us. Losing to the Clippers on opening night was a blow to be sure, but they could have a monstrous offensive season on their hands, thanks to Stephen Curry, who averaged 39.5 points in 36 minutes.
1 Los Angeles Lakers
No, it’s not a typo. And maybe you could see this coming. The Lakers make our list today because they seem to be their worst enemies so much of the time. LeBron James isn’t getting any younger, and his chemistry with the rest of the team doesn’t instill that much confidence.
Are the Lakers overrated at this point? We’ll have to keep watching to find out, but any of the teams on this list here could manage to put the Lakers in their place in 2019.
Sources: NBA.com; ESPN.com; CBSSports.com, Today.com