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The Lakers haven’t made the playoffs since the 2012-2013 season when they were swept out of the first round against the San Antonio Spurs. For a storied franchise like the Lakers, that’s an eternity without a little taste of an NBA Championship -- and something that likely won’t last much longer.

Currently sitting as the fifth-best team in the Western Conference with a 20-15 record, the Lakers are in a good spot to make the playoffs, despite just being 36 games into the season. Unfortunately, there won’t be a whole lot of room for comfort due to how tight the entire conference is.

LA has something the other two teams don’t have: a large group of young talent. They also have LeBron James, which is a player any team can flourish with.

With just 3.5 games separating the No. 1 and No. 8 seed -- and two more teams beyond that still very much in it -- the Western Conference will continue to be a mystery as far as playoff hopes are concerned. There are, however, several teams trending upwards, like the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs, but one can argue that the Lakers are among those teams. LA has something the other two teams don’t have: a large group of young talent. They also have LeBron James, which is a player any team can flourish with.

the Lakers have constantly been forced to change their lineup and rarely play at full strength.

The main thing I like about the Lakers this season, and something that should scare the rest of the league, is the fact that we haven’t even see the Lakers at their best this season. Whether it was suspensions to Ingram and Rondo, or injuries to James, Ingram, Rondo, McGee, or family emergencies for Michael Beasley, the Lakers have constantly been forced to change their lineup and rarely play at full strength.

Still, the Lakers have posted 20 wins in the first 35 games after only finishing with 35 wins all of last season. Their recent improvements have mostly been at the hands of LeBron James, but his effect on this team goes much deeper than wins. We’re already starting to see it with LeBron James currently sidelined with a groin injury.

James has consistently shown that his teams find a way to win in the playoffs, even when the odds are stacked against them.

The Lakers are starting to prove that they’re a legitimate playoff contender without LeBron James, and the fact that the core of this team outside of LBJ are all very young, it’s clear that the Lakers’ best days are yet to come -- that’s why playing well now is so important. James has consistently shown that his teams find a way to win in the playoffs, even when the odds are stacked against them. His 8 straight NBA Finals appearances is evidence of that.

With the 5th best record in the West after 35 games, the Lakers are on pace for just under 50 wins, which should be good enough for a spot even in the tight Western Conference.

For the Lakers, their first concern will be making the playoffs. With the 5th best record in the West after 35 games, the Lakers are on pace for just under 50 wins, which should be good enough for a spot even in the tight Western Conference. At some point, the team is bound to be at full strength and the more this team improves together, the Lakers can find themselves being a top seed in the West by the end of the regular season.

With LeBron’s history in the playoffs, simply making it in will make the Lakers strong contenders for a run at the trophy.

All signs are pointing to the Lakers making the playoffs this season for the first time since 2013. With LeBron’s history in the playoffs, simply making it in will make the Lakers strong contenders for a run at the trophy.

Either way, it will also be the toughest road to the Finals that James has ever been dealt. In order to make it easier, he will need the Lakers’ youth to continue stepping up to the occasion. Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram will have to do their part on the offensive end, while JaVale McGee, Ivica Zubac and Tyson Chandler control the paint on the defensive end.

It’s something the Lakers have preached since the beginning of the season -- get stops and take advantage of mismatches.

What do you think? Do the Lakers have a shot at the championship this season? Comment below and let us know. Also be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more Lakers news.

by Ryan Brennan

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