4 players who must step up for Lakers to earn a spot in the play-in tourney

LeBron James and the Lakers hang on by a thread in the tight race for the final play-in spot

This story first appeared on ClutchPoints.

Still in the midst of a catastrophic campaign, it would be a grave understatement to say the Los Angeles Lakers have played below expectations this season. Between constant injuries and lineup changes and an endless amount of losing, the Lakers are in a rough spot. Head coach Frank Vogel was even put on the hot seat earlier this year.

Currently in a tight race for the final play-in spot with the New Orleans Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs, LA is hanging on by a thread. With the competition revving up late in the season, the Lakers definitely have a full slate. Having said all this, we’ll now discuss four players who must step up for the Lakers if they’re to earn a spot in the play-in tournament.

Russell Westbrook

Even though he’s been playing well of late, the key for Russell Westbrook will be finding a way to mesh well with LeBron James and Anthony Davis for the duration. As a former scoring champion and the triple-double king of the NBA, Westbrook must find a way to return to All-Star form and co-exist with James and Davis as they return to action.

Russ could thrive as their sixth man and lead the second unit with Carmelo Anthony. However, this would require him to take a step back and accept a non-starter role with the team. Whether he’s starting or coming off the bench, Russ will have to be consistently playing at a high level for LA. If the Lakers are hoping to take things up a notch and nab the 10th seed in the Western Conference, then they’ll need all-around great performances from the Brodie the rest of the way.

Talen Horton-Tucker

In previous trade talks, the Lakers have passed on upgrading their roster due to the promise they’ve seen in Talen Horton-Tucker. At this point, it’s become quite clear that THT hasn’t lived up to his potential. He’s still just 21 years old and has some upside to his game, but considering how high the Lakers have valued him, it doesn’t feel as if they’ve gotten a big enough contribution from him.

As a combo guard who’s still growing and developing his game, THT could add some explosion to the Lakers backcourt. He has shown flashes of greatness, but it hasn’t been constant enough to make a difference. During these desperate and trying times, LA needs a spark plug and Horton-Tucker could be exactly that for them.

DJ Augustin

As a late season addition who adds quality depth at point guard for them, DJ Augustin must rise to the occasion for Los Angeles. His facilitating, scoring, and veteran leadership are attributes that the Lakers would benefit from greatly. Reliable guard play is exactly what the Lakers signed Augustin for after all. So they’ll need him to be a high impact player for the rest of the season if they’re hoping to keep pace with the Pelicans and Spurs.

Augustin’s smooth shooting touch and court vision have paid major dividends in his previous stints. Given the current state of the Lakers, they could definitely benefit from his diverse skillset. In the tight-knit race for the final spot in the play-in tourney, Augustin is a vital role player that must produce for the Lakers moving forward.

Dwight Howard

With the release of DeAndre Jordan, this has opened up the opportunity for Dwight Howard to flourish as the Lakers premier big man. For a vast majority of their campaign, Howard hasn’t seen any playing time. In their recent matchups though, Howard has been added to their rotation. He’s by no means the dominant center of old, but Howard can still provide them with rebounding, rim protection, and strong finishes at the rim.

Now that he’s starting to see more minutes and meaningful playing time once again, Howard could add a ton of value for the Lakers. If LA is hoping to make it into the play-in tournament, then Howard will have to utilize his size and strength to give them a major boost down low. This will especially come in handy when they go up against some of the bigger teams on their remaining schedule. – Rappler.com

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