Through 60 games the Lakers are 47-13. They have the 2nd best record in the league and the top record in the western conference. They’re top 5 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. There’s very little this team doesn’t do well; very few metrics that do not paint them as one of the league’s best teams. They’re a true contender for the championship.
If there’s a dark cloud that hangs over them, however, it’s been their success against other top teams.
They’re currently winless in three combined games vs. the Clippers (0-2) and Bucks (0-1) — the two teams most view as the other top contenders to win it all. They split their season series with the Celtics, winning a close game in late February at home after getting blown out in Boston earlier this year. They just split their series with the 76ers, but Embiid, Simmons, and Richardson all sat out the most recent Lakers W. Toronto handled them earlier this year in the one game they’ve played so far. Houston gave them fits in their last matchup.
Fair or not, these results are the pebble in the Lakers new sneakers, they’re the bird shit on their freshly washed car. No matter how good this team actually is, these games are held against them by media and fans alike. They don’t diminish the Lakers entire body of work by any means, but they serve as a counter argument to the Lakers being viewed as favorites or the best team in the association. They might even have us asking if the Lakers really are built for the playoffs?
With the Bucks and Clippers slated for back to back games on Friday and Sunday respectively, the Lakers have their chance at earning some redemption and to reshape the narrative; they have an opportunity to give critics more reasons to believe they’re ready to win it all. To do so, though, they need to win. If they don’t, the doubts won’t just linger, they’ll get louder. Such is sports.
Again, fair or not, this is how these things work. Moral victories are perfectly fine for teams a level below the top tier or for teams with no expectations. Play a top team tough or lose a close game, you get recognition as “being close” or “on the rise”. Lose to a top team — even if you play well in the loss — when they’re the opponents expected to stand in your way for a title and you’re dropped down a peg or, even worse, labeled a “pretender” or a “paper champion”.
It would be nice, then, for the Lakers to get at least one win this weekend and, even better, a sweep. Not only to improve perception, but for their own confidence.
Look, I get you’ll never hear a player on this roster issue public doubts about their readiness to compete at the highest level against any of these teams. They’ll show belief in themselves — and they should. That said, the best way to know, inside, that you’re capable of doing something is actually doing it. That’s even more true when you’ve failed at that exact thing previously.
Is this entirely reasonable? Yes and no.
For all the import we put into these games, they’re actually not the playoffs. If these teams do match up in the post season, the gameplans will shift, adjustments will be made over the course of the series, and, as the pressure mounts, it seems no more likely to me that either the Bucks’ or the Clippers’ weaknesses won’t matter just as much as the Lakers’ would. This is why people say the playoffs are different. The drilling down on a single opponent over the course of two weeks can bring about outcomes we don’t always see coming.
That said, coming into this weekend, the Lakers are relatively healthy,1Alex Caruso has missed the team’s last two games. will be playing at home, and are surely motivated to win. Whatever excuses that could exist are greatly minimized. Context will always matter, but this team is well positioned to give a strong effort in these games. So, the expectation should be that they do.
So, go win a game or two, Lakers. I, for one, would appreciate it.