We’re all waiting on baited breath to see whether the conclusion to this season actually happens. This year has felt like a decade, and the weeks have seemed to last months. So many things can happen between now and July 31st, but I think I speak for all basketball fans when I say that I hope that every NBA teams can return to and continue to play safely. Even the ones I love to root against, like the Lakers. That said, here are some things that you may have forgotten were going on in Lakerland before the lockdown started.
They were winning. A lot.
To review the Lakers’ season, the first thing I did was pull up their schedule to evaluate whether or not they were on a hot streak. They were. But that would have been true at virtually any point in the season. Below is a list of all of their ten-game stretches, working backwards from their most recent game:
8-2 (22 Feb – 11 Mar)
7-3 (23 Jan – 13 Feb)
8-2 (02 Jan – 21 Jan)
6-4 (09 Dec – 30 Dec)
9-1 (20 Nov – 07 Dec)
9-1 (30 Oct – 18 Nov)
2-1 (23 Oct – 28 Oct)
Their one “bad” stretch was in December, when they were struggling with some injuries, Kyle Kuzma wasn’t firing on all cylinders, and they were playing some tough opponents. The Clippers are still the favorites, to win the West, but the road to the Finals probably goes through L.A. regardless.
LeBron James was hurting.
Speaking of injury issues, James has been slowed by groin injuries since the late Mesozoic Era, (or whenever last season happened) but he aggravated it in late December when he collided with Clippers guard Patrick Beverley. After that, LeBron sat for several games and still wasn’t playing at 100% by March. The Lakers were obviously doing fine, as they have actual basketball players besides The King on their roster—unlike some of his previous teams—but they were taking it slow with him before the lockdown started. Here’s what Silver Screen and Roll contributor Christian Rivas said about it then:
Whenever the Lakers decide to give James a few nights off, it’s important that he gets that time before the start of the postseason. James may look like he’s in his athletic prime, but he’s 35 years old and it’s more important than ever for him to preserve his body for a a deep playoff run. The Lakers need to be careful here. According to Vogel, it sounds like they will be.
Needless to say, James got his few nights off, and as far as the King is concerned, the lockdown has been good for the Lakers’ chances. It does mean the exit of defensive expert Avery Bradley, who is not playing in Orlando due to concerns about his son’s respiratory health. However, a healthy LeBron likely makes a larger impact than a hobbled LeBron and Avery Bradley.
Kyle Kuzma was coming into his own.
It’s a rare thing for Jazz fans to have a favorite player on the Los Angeles Lakers, but the Kyle Kuzma is that player for many Beehive State hoops fans. A Runnin’ Utes alum, Kuzma was one of the surprises of the 2017-2018 season, even thrown in as a dark horse for Rookie of the Year. (Of course, he probably wouldn’t have been in the conversation if he’d played for the Magic or the Hornets instead of the Lakers, but that’s how it goes)
During Kuz’s rookie year, he shot 36% from beyond the arc, and Lakers fans thought they had found their “3 and D” guy. That led to some angst this season, when he regressed to the mean and hit only 29.9% of his three-pointers.
That doesn’t mean that Kuzma was necessarily a liability, though. As Rivas put it, he was” proving to be more ‘D’ than ‘3,’” but that defense helped the Lakers shore up the perimeter against the mighty Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics. Good defenders are going to be more valuable than usual throughout the rest of this season. It will most likely take shooters longer to regain the shooting rhythm they had before the lockdown than it will take defenders to get into the groove of their craft.
They dominated the season series with the Jazz.
Up to this point, the Lakers have outscored the Jazz 216-182 and lead the Jazz 2-0 in the season series. They’ve clinched it, actually, as the two teams only play each other once during the season’s abbreviated conclusion. The Jazz had no defensive answer for LeBron and Anthony Davis, got no bench support, and went down without much of a fight.
I keep saying “this season” as it relates to the July restart, but it’s really a whole new season. Anything could happen. I do believe that the Jazz have the horses to compete with the Lakers, but it will take everything they have, and they will have to figure out how to make things work without star forward Bojan Bogdanovic.