Lakers

The Lakers Are Good Enough to Go the Distance

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By all means possible, it hasn’t been the easiest season for the Los Angeles Lakers.

It hasn’t been the easiest few years since they won the 2020 NBA Finals.

With a fresh — and, for the most part, healthy — roster and a new lease on life, however, the Lakers find themselves competing for a clinched playoff spot.

Yes, you heard that right, playoff spot, not play-in.

If you would have told any Laker fan this back when they started the season 2-10 and had Juan Toscano-Anderson and Damian Jones as recurring figures in their everyday rotation, they’d probably think you were coming from an alternate universe. Nevertheless, LAL has since gone 39-29 and completely restructured their roster at the trade deadline to go from outside-looking-in to what some people view as title favorites.

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MAKING THE CASE

From a team no one was taking seriously to a team many Western Conference squads would like to avoid in the playoffs, this Lakers team compared to the one prior to the trade deadline is like night and day.

Senior staff writer for The Ringer Kevin O’Connor called the new-look Lakers “true finals contenders” in his post-trade deadline NBA power rankings. O’Connor is one of many people around the league that truly believes Los Angeles is a top-dog in the Western Conference.

As we all know— a healthy LeBron James and Anthony Davis in any seven-game series gives you a chance to compete. That was the argument for that past season and a half while the two injury-riddled superstars were taking turns lugging around a subpar roster.

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That isn’t the case this time around, though. Rob Pelinka made massive moves at the trade deadline and surrounded his star duo with depth and, well, competence.

History tells us superstars cannot win all by themselves. Kareem and Magic? They had dogs all around them like James Worthy, Michael Cooper, Mychal Thompson and Kurt Rambis. Kobe and Shaq? They had Derek Fisher, Rick Fox and Robert Horry just to name a few. Giving LeBron and AD depth in the roster like they had when they won in 2020 was essential to giving their franchise players a chance this season.

And so far, it is working out fantastically.

Since acquiring their new additions, the Lakers have a 17-8 record, which is atop the the Western Conference in that span. They have a 110.8 defensive rating, which is good for second in the league in that time span thanks to a defense now led by Anthony Davis and Jarred Vanderbilt.

Stats, new additions and improved depth aside, the main reason that this Lakers team is blending well is because they have a strong locker room filled with people who share the same goal— winning.

EVERYONE LIKES EACH OTHER

There was a triple-double-sized elephant in the room for the majority of the last two seasons in LA. A major key to winning — and something the Lakers were desperately lacking — is having a cohesive unit that boosts morale and chemistry. Any Laker fan watching can tell that there was a major shift in how everyone interacts with each other.

Deep playoff runs require solid team chemistry. And in the short time D’Angelo Russell and the new acquisitions have been here, they have created a great environment primed for a playoff run.

TAKE A LOOK AT THE FIELD

Lastly, let’s take a look at the teams the Lakers will most likely be playing. The West is more competitive than ever; most would say it’s wide open and doesn’t have a clear favorite like the East might with Milwaukee and Boston.

Assuming the Lakers finish as the 7th seed and win in their first play-in game, they’ll play the Memphis Grizzlies. Don’t get me wrong, Memphis is a very good team. They’d probably give the Lakers the best fight out of every team that isn’t Phoenix.

Conversely, however, LeBron and AD have played Memphis very well in the past, especially because LeBron takes the matchup personally more times than not. Not to mention the Grizzlies are without Steven Adams for the entire playoffs— a vital piece to their frontcourt.

Let’s say the Lakers win their final regular-season game and clinch that coveted 6th seed. They’d play the Kings, who are the most favorable matchup in all of the conference being young and having no playoff experience.

But let’s be perfectly clear: no one on that Kings team will be able to hold LeBron or AD in a playoff setting.

Basically any team in the conference besides Phoenix is a good matchup for this LA squad which is why we’ve seen so many people try to avoid positioning themselves against them.

IN THE END…

As we all know, all of this talk is riding the fact that the two superstars stay healthy. Health has been the Lakers’ toughest opponent for the better part of the last few seasons. Everyone can agree that if this Lakers team can stay off the shelf for the foreseeable future, they can shake up the conference in this year’s playoffs.

All we can do is sit back and watch.

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About Connor Moreno

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