This has been a roller coaster year for the young Lakers. Having watched them all season, the season started off very slowly. The Lakers were doing reasonably well in the standings at 5-5 to start the year, but subjectively, they were just dreadful to watch. They seemed to not know how to run and offense in the half court, and if it wasn’t on the fast break, they labored greatly trying to score. You did see some flashes of great things from Lonzo Ball, but mostly you saw poor shooting, and that became the big story for the Lakers. Many people called Lonzo a bust because he had a bad first two months shooting the 3 at 25.2%. Brandon Ingram looked as though he’d only make a pass if he were going to get an assist out of it. Julius Randle was playing reasonably well but was coming off the bench and only played 30 minutes in a game 3 times before becoming a starter. Jordan Clarkson was in contention early for 6th man, but he only played 30 minutes or more once before Christmas day. Really the only true bright spot seemed to be coming from Kyle Kuzma. He was the talk of the Western Conference rookies and looked to be in real contention for Rookie of the Year.
Then a strange thing started happening. The Lakers went on a long losing streak following an injury to Lonzo Ball but during that time, they started making some changes. Julius Randle was inserted in the starting lineup and immediately started producing, averaging 18 ppg and 8.9 rpg. Rookie Josh Hart suddenly started getting more playing time and started making himself much more assertive on the floor. He went from playing a few minutes a game and kind of just floating around, like much of the Lakers offense, to being a very solid contributor, both off the bench and when relied upon to start, scoring 10 or more points 6 times in his first 33 games and hitting double digits 10 more times in his next 22 games. Lonzo himself, since his slow first two months, is shooting 41.1% from 3 and is starting to live up to the hype coming out of UCLA. Since the losing streak, Brandon Ingram has transformed his game as well. He’s scored at 16.5 ppg while chipping in with 5 rebounds and nearly 5 assists per game. He’s also slashing a very impressive 0.511/0.465/0.720 and has been counted on to run the team, especially during many of the games that Lonzo has missed.
Since the losing streak, the Lakers are 16-7 and are playing at one of the fastest paces in the NBA. They’ve gone from being a team that was very dull to watch, to a team that’s exciting and really fun to watch. Following the Clarkson/Nance trade, Isaiah Thomas has joined the team and fit in quite well. He’s averaging 16.1 ppg and nearly 5 apg, while anchoring a bench unit that has been a bit depleted as of late due to injuries. Really only Kyle Kuzma has really struggled to make shots in the past couple months for the Lakers, by shooting only 41.3% from the field and only 33.3% from 3 since the losing streak.
After the Lakers horrendous start, they’re now sitting in 11th in the conference but have ripped off 5 straight and 7 of 10. They have to jump over 3 teams in the standings to get into that 8th spot, but they’re playing their best ball of the season, even with their recent injuries. They just swept a 4 game road trip and are coming home for 4 out of their next 5 where they have win 9 in a row. If the Lakers get into the playoffs, they’ll certainly be a matchup that the Rockets or Warriors will cringe at. They’re too fast to get run out of the building and their too naive to know they don’t belong with the upper echelon of the NBA.
Either way, the question remains, with only 20 games left in the regular season, can the Lakers make up the 6.5 games they’re down from the 8th seed? Realistically, no. But with how well the Lakers are playing now, they’ll certainly have the whole city of LA buzzing as they give it a try.