Can LeBron and the Lakers hold off the likes of Brooklyn and the Clippers?
The Los Angeles Lakers are now the hunted.
The NBA world has already begun to turn its attention to the postseason and the NBA Finals, with the second half of the season beginning Wednesday.
Of course, with all the guesswork comes talk about the reigning champs and if they can pull off a repeat.
But it won't be a simple task.
Those other three West contenders are not having to deal with injury concerns regarding a superstar. The Lakers have been without perennial All-Star Anthony Davis since he left a Feb. 14 contest at Denver because of a calf and Achilles injury.
So far, the Lakers are 7-7 without Davis this season, and "The Brow" has at least another week before he will be able to suit up again. Even if Davis is back to full health by the playoffs, the question remains: Are the Lakers’ repeat chances in jeopardy?
Many eyes have turned toward the Eastern Conference while looking for a potential dethroner. With Brooklyn this week adding Blake Griffin to the trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving, the Nets seem to be the team with the best shot to overthrow L.A., according to both FOX Bet and former All-Star Antoine Walker, who joined "First Things First" on Wednesday.
"[Griffin] is a very skilled guy who can pass and make an occasional 3. He is smart and has played big games in his career, and he wants to win a title."
Griffin is having the worst season of his career statistically, averaging just 12.3 points on 36.5% shooting, but he brings both motivation and playoff experience to Brooklyn. In 53 playoff games, Griffin has put up 21.2 points and 8.5 rebounds on 49% shooting.
Regardless of Griffin's drop-off this season, Walker is excited about his versatility and what it could add to an already potent Brooklyn offense.
"I think he gives them depth off the bench. I think he gives them a guy who can help them play small ball if they want to. He can play a little 5, some 4 position."
Brooklyn aside, there is a wealth of competition on the West Coast before the Lakers can set foot on the NBA Finals floor.
Although Skip Bayless has praised Brooklyn's chances in recent weeks, he doesn't think the Lakers and Nets will square off in the Finals, but he does believe one Los Angeles team will be there.
"The Lakers are not going to get out the West. [The Clippers] got a new coach and a new direction and a whole new mindset. They are biding their time."
There has been just one meeting between the Lakers and Clippers this season, and the Clippers emerged with a 116-109 win against a healthy Lakers squad on opening night.
The past two seasons, the Lakers are 1-3 against the Clippers, and as of Wednesday, the Clippers have the edge over the Lakers in several offensive categories, including points per game (114.8-111.4), 3-point percentage (41.9-35.1) and free-throw percentage (84.3-74.5).
Stats aside, one Lakers believer – Shannon Sharpe – doesn't think the Clippers or Nets stand a chance against the defending champions — as long as L.A. makes a roster move before the playoffs, mainly because first-year Lakers center Marc Gasol has not lived up to expectations.
"What they thought they were going to get offensively as far as scoring and passing the basketball has not manifested itself, and he’s been a liability because they just put him in pick-and-roll, and he just rolls to the basket."
On the season, Gasol is averaging 4.8 points per game on 40.8% shooting. He has committed three or more fouls in 15 of the Lakers' 37 games.
"If we get us a big man, it’s over," Sharpe said. "You better not let us get Drummond. If we get Drummond, it’s over."
Drummond is one of the most prolific rebounders in the game for the better part of the past decade. He's averaging 13.5 RPG this season and is a four-time rebounding champ. Plus, he has averaged a double-double (points and rebounds) in 10 consecutive seasons.
In his 11-year career, Drummond has averaged fewer than 10 RPG just once: his rookie season.
The NBA trade deadline is exactly two weeks away, which means if the Lakers – or Clippers – plan to make any moves, a la Brooklyn, they need to make them quickly.
We'll see if two of the West's best follow the lead of the East's beasts soon enough.