LeBron James has Los Angeles Lakers heading north

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Now that LeBron James has wrapped up winning his lifetime matchup with Dwyane Wade after delivering another brilliant effort, it’s time to see whether these Lakers have the staying power to factor in as a major contender in the Western Conference.

Although the Warriors are healthy again and will be the presumptive favorite barring major injuries going forward, no team has stepped up to fill the top contender role that the Rockets have vacated with their terrible start.

While Houston faces an uphill climb after falling to the back of the pack in the loaded Western Conference, L.A. takes its act on the road for a four-game set that will open against James Harden, Chris Paul and their gang of underachievers. The Lakers have managed to overcome losing talented young wing Brandon Ingram and haven’t had Rajon Rondo back in the mix for weeks, but that hasn’t stopped them from winning six of seven since Nov. 29, ascending to the top of the Pacific Division alongside Golden State and the surprising Clippers.

James has flawlessly played closer while ensuring that young co-stars Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball stay in rhythm throughout. The acquisition of center Tyson Chandler to help Ja’Vale McGee protect the paint has made a world of difference on the defensive end, so you’ve finally stopped hearing that Luke Walton has no idea what he’s doing as a head coach.

We’re about to see what killer instinct LeBron has brought to Lakers, especially since a win over the slumping Rockets would increase the gap to six games if they’re able to get their road swing off to a strong start. Stops in Charlotte, Washington and Brooklyn will follow after that, so L.A. can go on a run that may see it in first place ahead of the Warriors when the teams meet for the first time on Christmas Day.

Rondo had a setback with his hand injury but should rejoin the team this month and there’s a very real possibility that they’ll be able to break Trevor Ariza out of Phoenix via trade, which would add another capable two-way player to the mix.

When the season began, many were dubious to see a win total in the 48.5 range and many naysayers enthusiastically went in on the under. Doubting LeBron may hurt their bottom line if he’s able to sustain his current level of play.

Warriors at Kings (Friday): The aforementioned Warriors may have DeMarcus Cousins back in time for that holiday showdown with the Lakers, which would beat the initial timetable for his expected reports. It’s going to take him a while to play himself into shape and there are a lot of moving parts currently in flux for Golden State since forwards Draymond Green and Alfonzo McKinnie just returned from injuries, which could make the defending champs vulnerable this week. Look for the Warriors to fail to cover as a favorite of roughly seven points in Sacramento. KINGS

Lakers at Wizards (Sunday): Our other lean calls for the meeting with the Wizards in D.C. to be a victory that covers a spread of roughly five points and I’ll double-down in calling for the ‘over’ in the 230-range to prevail for the in-game parlay. With newly-acquired Dwight Howard sidelined and unable to make an impact, Washington simply hasn’t been able to protect the paint and currently lack a healthy John Wall to overcome that obstacle. LAKERS and OVER

Last week: 1-1

Season: 10-6

About the Author

Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia has been a national sportswriter for nearly two decades and has covered NBA and college basketball as a columnist, analyst, handicapper, and bracketologist for CBS Sports, Pro Basketball News, and numerous other sites.

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