We thought yesterday was the end of the world, but it was still far from the end for the Lakers. Despite a sub-par start to the season given the star power this team has, all is not lost. Yes, it’s nearly Christmas and the time when games don’t matter is behind us, but so is the Lakers’ rock bottom performance. It’s hard to say whether said rock bottom performance came against the Orlando Magic or the Cleveland Cavaliers, or perhaps even the New York Knicks, though they are totally legit this year. But none of that matters now. What matters is that the Lakers still have a shot; and a good one at that.
The expectation of a championship the first year these gladiators were put together may have been just a tad optimistic. Let me just put this out there. Even if the Lakers don’t win a championship, or even go to the Finals, does that mean this season isn’t a success?
Is it really do or die for Lakers fans right now? All or nothing?
I would say not. Especially looking at the teams in the Western Conference, there’s some pretty stiff competition to say the least. As long as they make the playoffs, it’s all a toss-up from there anyway. The Oklahoma City Thunder currently hold the best record in the league at 21-5 even after a somewhat embarrassing road loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves (to be fair Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio are back, and with a vengeance this season apparently). Then you have that other team that plays at Staples Center, the Los Angeles Clippers. They are on a franchise best 12-game win streak currently. Then there’s the Memphis Grizzlies, who seemingly came out of nowhere yet, when you look back on the past couple seasons, you find yourself nodding your head and saying, “oh, yeah, that makes sense.”
Not to mention, both Mike D’Antoni and Steve Nash are under three-year contracts. Dwight Howard may only be on a one-year tender, but you can’t think he is only going to stay if the Lakers win a championship. Him and his inner diva know he isn’t going to get near the exposure or limelight anywhere else. They’ll figure out something with him and Pau. He’ll stay. He has to. The Lakers will have time to get adjusted to D’Antoni’s system and if it’s not this year, it could definitely be next, or even the one after that you see Kobe Bryant kiss that golden basketball for the sixth time.
Feasibly, the Lakers could easily win about 30 more games, and I think that’s being conservative. It would put them at 44-38 (.536) on the season, just barely over .500. Think that isn’t enough to get them into the playoffs? Take into consideration that the 1992-1993 Lakers went to the playoffs under first-year head coach Randy Pflund with a record of just 39-43. Yup, .476 win percentage a.k.a. under .500.
Let’s take it a step further. Arguably the worst Lakers team to win a championship, you ask? That’s easy. The 2001-2002 Lakers in Phil Jackson’s first third year as coach. Sitting in the number three seed and second in the Pacific Division, the Kobe and Shaq dynamic duo won it all. Again, as a three seed.
Still don’t think a three seed is doable and a record just barely over .500 isn’t enough? The 1968-1969 Boston Celtics hoisted the championship trophy with a measly 48-34 regular season record. A winning percentage of just .585.
The Lakers are nestled at 12-14, just two games away from the .500 mark. Gasol is back and says his knees feel fine. There are also whispers of Nash’s return on Saturday against Golden State, and if not then he will certainly be back on Christmas after he practiced fully with contact this week. Ladies and gentleman, it’s only up from here.
The Lakers are going to get better and better as the season goes on. When Nash comes back the offense will finally have a consistent rhythm. There might even be a decent defense looming with Dwight and Gasol being able to share time and settle into their roles better. Everyone knows playoffs are basically a different season entirely. Come April, even if the Lakers are seeded eighth I would still put them up against anyone. The Thunder, the Clippers, dare I say- the Heat? Not trying to get ahead of myself, but I’d like to think the worst of this season is definitely behind us.