Six straight seasons in the lottery make you question1and very cynical about nearly everything about the NBA team you root for. Losing to that level is a petri dish for uncertainty in a fanbase; it’s the response to the poor decision making that, in the aggregate, lead to the results that torpedo you to the bottom year after year.
This has been the Lakers experience and, thus, the experience of their fans. Even for the most optimistic among us, there is an underbelly of doubt that whatever success you have can last, that whatever small cracks in the armor that exist will grow and manifest into larger fissures. It’s quite the crappy ride. I don’t recommend it.
Coming into this Lakers season, this feeling of doubt persisted even as the team projected to be really good. Sure, a team thought to be among the contending class minimized these feelings, but did not erase them fully. I do not want to overplay this and imply fans forecasted impending doom. It was more subtle — positive aspects probably weren’t given enough credence and negatives were highlighted and given more weight.
Beyond their own fans, though, these were ideas that also persisted at the national level among analysts, media, and critics. When a team is bad for as long as the Lakers were bad, there’s a burden of proof to overcome; there is a standard that must be reached before skeptics are converted to believers.
At 21-3, I believe the Lakers have moved beyond that burden. Heading into Wednesday’s game vs. the Magic, the Lakers have the league’s 6th ranked offense, the 4th ranked defense, and are 2nd in net rating. They’ve won 11 straight road games and, even when getting these teams’ best efforts nightly, are taking down every sub-.500 team they face. They’ve been resilient within games when they’ve been down and have made it a purpose to bounce back from each of their 3 losses with a higher level of focus, execution, and effort.
In other words, they’re showing the qualities of a championship level team.
Where this team ends the year can’t be known in the first week of December. There’s a lot of season left to play. By the time the playoffs roll around there are a multitude of factors that could have us re-thinking the Lakers (or any other contender’s) chances to win it all. Not to mention, winning a championship is really hard, often requiring doses of luck and good fortune to go along with talent playing to their best when the stakes are highest.
That said, what should no longer be a question is whether the Lakers belong in that discussion. They certainly do. They are beyond the burden of proof and while that won’t erase all the angst fans carry, it should at least ease any concerns about how for real this team is.