After a rough start, the Lakers have won five of their last six games. The new winning formula? Play terrible teams.
Los Angeles was 2-10 before this stretch, and there have been various reasons given for their recent resurgence. Anthony Davis is playing like a Hall of Famer. Russell Westbrook has accepted his bench role. The team has each other’s backs, albeit by shoving opponents in the back. They’re only the third-worst three-point shooting team in the league, instead of the worst.
But the most obvious answers is they’ve played terrible teams. Their third win came at home against Brooklyn (9-11), playing without Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons. Next they beat the league’s second-worst team, the Detroit Pistons (5-16), who were missing starters Cade Cunningham and LeBron’s nemesis, Isaiah Stewart. This game was also at home.
The Lakers’ next three wins were all against the San Antonio Spurs, who are embarking on a tanking project worthy of an Allied military campaign in North Africa. (The Lakers lost to the Suns after the first Spurs game) After their surprising start, the young Spurs have been the worst team in the NBA by a wide, wide margin.
The games against San Antonio on Friday and Saturday were the Lakers’ first road victories of the season. It’s great that they finally won on the road, but it’s less meaningful when the opponent’s main priority is to get the best possible chance to draft Victor Wembanyama, not win basketball games. The Spurs played two 19-year-olds significant minutes, and their best player hurt himself dunking four minutes into the second quarter. And the Lakers won by five and gave up 138 points.
A better test will come in December, when the Lakers start the month with six straight road games against some of the East’s top teams. Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Toronto, and Cleveland are contenders, and the Washington Wizards (10-9) are in 7th place. At least they get to finish the trip with the woeful Pistons, perhaps their best chance at a third road win.
Maybe the Lakers have indeed righted the ship. And beating up on a bad teams is at the very least a sign of competence in the NBA. But before we decide that the Lakers are turning their season around, let’s see how they do against teams who can really play.