Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
July 3, 2020

The Lakers stake their claim for best in the NBA

By MATTHEW RITCHIE | March 12, 2020

The 2019-2020 National Basketball Association (NBA) season has been a complicated ride for the Los Angeles Lakers in terms of media perception. 

After the historic franchise, who had not been to the playoffs since the 2012-2013 season, traded for center Anthony Davis, the media predictions began to rain in. 

These predictions slated the Lakers to both underachieve and disappoint, even with the pairing of Davis and NBA legend LeBron James. 

ESPN.com’s 2019-2020 season forecast had the Lakers finishing just fifth in the Western Conference with 51 wins. 

The experts at ESPN also picked them to be the second most tumultuous team in the NBA, predicting that the addition of Davis into the fold would cause more drama than success for the Lakers. 

Meanwhile, FiveThirtyEight gave the team a 73 percent chance to make the playoffs and predicted that they would only finish with 48 wins. The data projection site also only gave the Lakers a six percent chance of making the NBA Finals.

This tune has changed, for now the Lakers sit atop the Western Conference with a record of 49-13, having already clinched playoff position with just 20 games left to go. 

And after coming off of a pivotal week of basketball where they defeated the New Orleans Pelicans, Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers, it is clear that the Lakers have staked a legitimate claim to the top spot in the NBA. 

There were a multitude of “reasons” as to why the Lakers were picked to disappoint and be left outside of the upper echelon of teams in the League. 

Experts did not believe in the team’s capability to assimilate Davis, a number one option for the Pelicans, into the Lakers offense already run by the ball-dominant James. 

This concern was dismantled pretty quickly, as James announced in an interview during the preseason that the offense would run through Davis. 

“We do all know how good Anthony Davis is, and if we are not playing through Anthony Davis while he is on the floor, then there’s no sense to have him on the floor,” James said. 

The team has followed this philosophy, as Davis leads the team in scoring with 26.7 points per game. 

The pairing of Davis, a generational talent on both sides of the ball, and James, one of the greatest offensive floor generals in the history of the NBA, is a match made in heaven. 

James took this season to move to the point guard position, becoming the main distributor for the Lakers. This has led to him averaging a career-high in assists (10.6) and allows Davis to fill in the role of primary scorer. 

Experts across the League were also concerned with the fact that LeBron James is both in his 17th season and 35 years old. 

As he came off the first major injury of his career — a torn groin kept him out of a large part of the 2018-2019 season — there were rumblings of the all-time great being “washed.”

His performance this season has silenced any notion of being a liability for the Lakers. 

James has undertaken a renaissance, age-less performance this season, averaging 25.7 points and 7.8 rebounds to go along with his career-high in assists. 

This past weekend, he reminded everyone around the NBA as to why he is one of the top three players in the world. 

In a span of three days, he squared off against Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Bucks and Kawhi Leonard’s Clippers, two of the players the media is continually trying to crown as the new “best player in the world.”

Against Milwaukee, LeBron put on a masterclass performance on both sides of the floor. 

He logged an elite game of 37 points, eight assists and eight rebounds, taking over the game by scoring 14 points in the third quarter and closing the game down the stretch. He also consistently guarded Antetokounmpo during the middle and late quarters, putting the defensive clamps on him with relative ease. 

He and Davis controlled the game on both ends, as Davis finished with 30 points, nine rebounds and two blocks.

Then against the Clippers, LeBron capped off his best weekend as a Laker with another elite performance, finishing with 28 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. 

His game, combined with another 30 point performance from Davis and 24 points from guard Avery Bradley, led the Lakers to a 112-103 victory against the Clippers. 

The stellar weekend allowed the Lakers to clinch their first playoff berth since 2013. 

Possibly more important than the significant offensive performances was the defensive effort in both of these games, which has been the Lakers M.O. 

When they played the Clippers on Sunday, they forced their opponents to commit more turnovers (15) than assists (12). 

Los Angeles is ranked third in defensive rating (105.5) and averages the fourth most steals per game (8.6), as well as the most blocks per game (6.9). 

The conglomerate of dominating paint presences (Davis, Dwight Howard and Javale McGee), solid wing defenders (Alex Caruso, Avery Bradley, Danny Green and Markieff Morris) and a motivated LeBron James is a scary sight for any team on the defensive end.

The Lakers, for all intents and purposes, have hit their stride as a team. 

After the Clippers win, they were 6.5 games clear of second place and won 11 of their last 12 games overall. 

While Lakers fans remain cautiously optimistic about their team’s success so far this season, they should be prepared to experience a version of LeBron James like no other. 

Last season, the Lakers were out of the playoff race, and dealt with an unmotivated and injured James, who appeared to be taking it easy as he was surrounded by an inexperienced young core. 

Lakers fans are now privy to the phenomenon known as Post-All Star Game LeBron, who has averaged 30.1 points while shooting a torrid 55.1 percent from the field. 

He has been doubted at multiple instances this season, which in turn has motivated him to pour in crazy Herculean performances throughout the year. 

They will get to see LeBron at his finest, when he is “Zero Dark Thirty-23” mode, the version of himself that shuts out any distractions from the outside world and focuses solely on the playoffs.

Combine this elevated version of James with an MVP/Defensive Player of the Year level Anthony Davis and an experienced roster comprised of talented veterans and champions, and we’ve got the makings for a championship contender. 

Some critics questioned the strategy of simply acquiring two superstars and hoping they develop chemistry, but the Lakers’ front office has shown they have done much more than simply sign their two all stars. 

And right now, it is getting a lot more difficult to leave them out of the conversation for the best team in the League.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The News-Letter.

News-Letter Special Editions