LeBron James and the L.A. Lakers secured the West's top seed, but it doesn't mean the path to a title will be easy. In fact, this may be LeBron's toughest title chase yet.
He said as much in a chat with Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:
“It’s probably going to be one of — probably the toughest one,” James said. “It’s the toughest championship run for me personally. From the circumstances of just being in here… I don’t take anything for granted. I live life, every day I maximize that day. I don’t take anything for granted. Because at the end of the day, I know where I come from, I know what I stand for, so I don’t take anything for granted, especially being in my 17th season. I don’t go into any season saying, ‘OK, playoffs, playoffs, championship, championship.’ I just am all about the process.”
In the first round, L.A. is set to face off against the Portland Trail Blazers, a deep and deadly offensive squad that is finally healthy after suffering from injuries all season long. Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, and Carmelo Anthony will give the Lakers a challenge and are being regarded as one of the best eight-seeds in the modern basketball era.
In the second-round, L.A. will either face the Rockets or Thunder. The former have James Harden and a high-volume shooting offense. The later have been a model of consistency all year long and have a starting lineup that has been among the best in the NBA this season.
If L.A. advances to the Western Conference Finals, it is likely they will face their biggest challenge, the L.A. Clippers. Obviously the Clippers are the NBA's most stacked team, with Kawhi, Paul George, Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, and Marcus Morris all suiting up for them.
The Bucks or Raptors will likely be waiting for L.A. in the Finals. One of which has a top-three player on the planet while the other is coming off last year's Championship victory.
Bear in mind that throughout all of this, the Lakers will be without Avery Bradley, who has elected to skip out on bubble play completely to deal with a family matter.
Obviously, it won't be easy for 35-year-old LeBron James to overcome the challenges that lie ahead. But with three titles under his belt and years of playoff experience, nobody should count him out this year.
James has earned the benefit of the doubt.