With LeBron & AD out, the Lakers are falling down the standings at a rapid pace. [View in browser]( [FOX SPORTS INSIDER WITH MARTIN ROGERS]( In today’s FOX Sports Insider with Martin Rogers: The Lakers are a dominant team when healthy, built for titles, but is it time to hit the panic button in L.A.? ... we are introduced to Tommy Lloyd, who is Gonzaga’s ace in the hole ... and Aaron Gordon has an epic postgame interview with Dwyane Wade. Just as the Los Angeles Lakers prepare to hit the road for a lengthy trip, they find themselves in the slow lane. As they peer over their shoulder, a pair of would-be overtakers are right there, with both the Denver Nuggets and the Portland Trail Blazers poised hungrily, moving more swiftly, primed to surge past them and disappear off into the distance. Ever since LeBron James became Los Angeles’ backseat driver rather than occupying his customary place at the wheel, it became clear that a tumble was inevitable. Okay, enough with the driving-based puns, let’s get to business. [STORY IMAGE 1] Where the Lakers’ fall bottoms out – and when it ends – could turn out to be one of the most significant strands in how the entire season unfolds. And in terms of entertainment value, it could electrify the opening stages of the postseason. Imagine a playoff route that would require the Lakers to navigate past a play-in game, then the Clippers, the Phoenix Suns and the league best record holders, the Utah Jazz, just to get out of the NBA’s Western Conference bracket. James’ high ankle sprain occurred back on March 20, with the Lakers in the third spot in the West. Heading into Friday’s games they were in fourth place, but with an identical 30-18 record as the Nuggets, and Portland only a half game back. Both those chasers are charging, with Denver spurred by Nikola Jokic’s MVP candidature and the Blazers by Damian Lillard’s effervescence. The remainder of the campaign comes with multiple unknowns surrounding the defending champion Lakers. Two of them are the elephants in the room – the theories of how quickly and effectively James and Anthony Davis return to action from their respective injuries. The other, not to be underestimated, revolves around how quickly recent pickup Andre Drummond clicks with his new unit when he starts playing next week after a minor injury pause. [STORY IMAGE 2]( Yet even in the best-case scenario for all three of those factors, the team’s final position the standings shapes up to be hugely important. This is a championship group but not a flawless one, nor a particularly young one. Last season’s cruise through the bubble never tested the Lakers’ reserves of stamina. A postseason gauntlet this time quite easily could. A sixth-place finish in the West? Well, that would have the potential to set up (if the status quo remains) one of the juiciest first round playoff encounters ever seen, a head-to-head tussle between the Lakers and the Clippers for Staples Center bragging rights. Anything lower, and all kinds of considerations come into play. A further drop, into seventh or lower, and a place in the league’s postseason play-in tournament would beckon. Things, for the Lakers, are getting a little nervy. “They’re probably going to fall pretty far, into the seventh or eighth seed,” [three-time All Star Antoine Walker told FS1’s First Things First](. “They don’t have the same sort of depth as last year. The schedule is not in their favor. Teams are now looking at the Lakers and thinking they can beat them. I don’t know how long they can withstand playing without LeBron and Anthony Davis.” [STORY IMAGE 3] With a minimal amount of information coming out regarding the key injuries, it is mightily tough to predict what might happen. [FOX Bet]( has the Lakers priced at +270 for the title, second only behind the Brooklyn Nets, who are currently blazing a trail through the East on the back of spectacular offensive play. There is no definitive timeline on Davis, who is struggling with an Achilles injury that has already kept him out for a month and a half. James seems likely to be out for another 3-4 weeks, though head coach Frank Vogel has offered little in the way of meaningful updates, keeping his cards superglued to the vest. Now a stretch without home comforts is upon them, also there is a phony wrinkle to the idea of a true seven-game tilt, given that game two of it will be at Staples, against the Clippers. Even so, Friday’s visit to the Sacramento Kings is the beginning of seven games in 12 days, with a Finals rematch against the Miami Heat and a showdown with the Nets included. Upon their return, a double header against the first place Jazz is on the near horizon, all factors that may give the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, currently occupying seventh and eighth in the West, some cause for optimism. [STORY IMAGE 4] How soon, then, should James and Davis return? The obvious answer is: when they’re ready – but such things have an element of built-in flexibility. Furthermore, in order to maximize postseason effectiveness, it is not as simple as just returning and picking up right where they left off. A period of reacclimating will be desired, both in terms of shaking off rust and getting back into the team flow. “The Lakers know no one in the West can beat them if they’re healthy,” [said FOX Sports’ Nick Wright](. “Who is the team they should even a tiny bit fear?” There is justification for such confidence, yet it must also be accepted that the margin of difficulty increases with every positional drop down the standings. The Lakers are still a superteam, built for titles, but they have some issues. There is a lot for them to consider, serious stuff – not to be minimized by clumsy travel-themed puns. There are legacies and ambitions, the emerging threat of Brooklyn and in James’ case, the important matter of his drive … (sorry, couldn’t resist) … for five. [STORY IMAGE 5]( Here’s what others have said ... Chris Broussard, First Things First: “The Lakers goal is a championship. As long as they're in the play-in they need to wait until LeBron & AD get healthy.” Colin Cowherd, The Herd: “This is the Lakers new reality … Based on last year, what looks like the Lakers’ recipe for success and championships is AD and LeBron get a bunch of time off, show up to the playoffs, and they’re great. But the reality is, the Lakers need a third star.” Jay Williams, ESPN: “If you’re the Lakers, you’re in the daunted Western Conference where on the back end, they have one of the most difficult schedules left in the game of basketball. It’s easy to see them drop. They could be in that 6-7 range. You could see the Lakers playing in the play-in tournament, for sure.”
SPONSORED Looking for pants that have the feel of sweatpants with the look of jeans? DUER makes it easier for people to get dressed, so they can get on with the good stuff in their lives - the healthy, adventurous, meaningful stuff. With five times the stretch of traditional denim, DUER features technical fabric that keeps you cool when it’s hot, and warm when it’s cool. Plus, DUER denim is made with sustainable fibers from wood chips, plants and recycled plastic bottles. [Explore DUER's denim made for movement](. [IN OTHER WORDS] - Women in sports are exposing long-standing inequities and driving for change – as evidenced during the NCAA Tournament. Their biggest tool? According to [Yahoo Sports’ Henry Bushnell]( it’s their own voice.
- The Gonzaga men’s basketball program wouldn’t be what it is today without Tommy Lloyd, who has spent two decades helping Mark Few in Spokane. [Sports Illustrated’s Greg Bishop]( introduces us to Tommy Lloyd: Gonzaga’s ace in the hole.
- Thirty years ago, UNLV was historically dominant but fell just short of winning a national title. [ESPN Insider Josh Gasaway]( provides a look back at a streak that hasn’t been matched since, and how it unraveled. [THE INTERNET IS UNDEFEATED] [THE INTERNET IS UNDEFEATED]( Here’s a fun fact about Denver Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon: He has recorded the most 50 scores in NBA Dunk Contest history. Here’s another fun fact about Gordon: He completed an epic dunk over 7-foot-5 big man Tacko Fall in the 2020 Dunk Contest, and received a 9 from celebrity judge Dwyane Wade, which led to quite the controversy. Gordon and Wade spoke to each other on Thursday night following the Nuggets’ 101-94 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. Wade asked Gordon why he is sporting No. 50 now, to which he said: “I mean, it spoke to me man. You know I got the most 50’s ever in the dunk contest. It’s a good number for me. I feel like it’s strong, it’s powerful. It just spoke to me, man. I really…I’m rocking with it.” Wade couldn’t help but to let out a chuckle following that comment as he knew exactly what Gordon was getting at. Shaq also made it a point to troll Wade following the interview for giving Gordon a 9. This is laugh-out-loud funny. Enjoy! [VIEWER'S GUIDE] South Carolina vs. Stanford (ESPN, 6 p.m. ET)
Zia Cooke and the No. 1 seed South Carolina Gamecocks take on Lexie Hull and the No. 1 seed Stanford Cardinal in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament Final Four. Friday Night SmackDown (FOX, 8 p.m. ET)
Sami Zayn brings Logan Paul to his Red Carper Premiere this Friday on SmackDown. Arizona Wildcats vs. UConn Huskies (ESPN, 9:30 p.m. ET)
Aarion McDonald and the No. 3 seed Arizona Wildcats go up against Paige Bueckers and the No. 1 seed UConn Huskies in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament Final Four. Houston vs. Baylor (Saturday, CBS, 5:14 p.m. ET)
Quentin Grimes and the No. 2 seed Houston Cougars take on Jared Butler and the No. 1 seed Baylor Bears in a Final Four matchup. UCLA vs. Gonzaga (Saturday, CBS, 8:34 p.m. ET)
Johnny Juzang and the No. 11 seed UCLA Bruins battle Drew Timme, Jalen Suggs and the No. 1 seed Gonzaga Bulldogs in a Final Four matchup. [BET OF THE DAY] [BET OF THE DAY] Odds provided by [FOX Bet](
UCLA vs. Gonzaga: Gonzaga -14 It’s hard to believe that one team is favored by 14 points in a Final Four game. But this year’s Gonzaga team is far from normal. The Bulldogs have been outstanding throughout this entire season and NCAA Tournament, becoming just the sixth team to win their first four tournament games by 15-or-more since the expansion to at least 64 teams came 36 years ago. They have won their four tournament games by an average of 24 points per contest. UCLA, on the other hand, has won their five games (they played in the “first four” game) by an average of 9.8 points per contest, and that includes two overtimes and a two-point victory over Michigan in the Elite Eight. As good as UCLA has been at times throughout this tournament, don’t expect this one to be close. [WHAT THEY SAID] “I don’t wanna be Jordan. I don’t wanna be Bird or Isiah. I don’t wanna be any of those guys. I want to look in the mirror and say I did it my way.” — Allen Iverson [FOLLOW FOX SPORTS] [Twitter]( [Facebook]( [YouTube]( [Instagram]( Download FOX Sports App: [Fire TV](
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