“The Lakers have had an easy schedule.” “The Lakers haven’t been tested.” “The Lakers played 17 of their first 21 at home and they’ll falter when they finally hit the road.”
If you read Lakers blogs (and you do- you are right now), you’ve probably seen some or all of the above comments. During the regular season, things like power rankings are all we have to subjectively rank the best teams against one another. Without a 7-game series to really measure teams with each other, everything else is merely speculation. That said, I think the quotes above warrant at least a small response.
Have the Lakers had an easy schedule? Maybe. Would their record be drastically different if they had a harder schedule? Probably not.
The Lakers have four losses to date. One of those was in Denver while another one of those was in Utah. These are two of the hardest arenas for a road team to win in. Denver is currently 12-1 at home; that one loss to a Timberwolves team that shot over 50% that night while the Nuggets scored only 12 points in the third quarter. Denver has been unbeatable at home aside from that quarter.
The Utah loss was also an interesting anomaly: Kobe Bryant not only had an injured finger he was learning how to deal with (an injury he still has as of this writing); he also had the flu and required an IV just to play. While the Lakers can certainly hold their own without him, I would argue that Bryant’s insistence on playing when not 100% may have actually hurt the team. I would have liked to have seen the result if Kobe took the night off. That may have been a better barometer for the team’s balance and true ability. Because he played miserably (7 of 24 from the field, 1 of 9 behind the arc), the Lakers had no chance against a Jazz team firing on all cylinders. Stats don’t show defensive miscues either, and Kobe was the reason for quite a few easy Jazz looks that night.
The Lakers have lost twice at home already; once to Houston, and once to Dallas. The Houston game saw Kobe go 5-20 while nursing a groin injury. The team overall shot just 38%. The Dallas game had Kobe once against performing poorly, shooting just 6-19 from the field. It is worth noting that both home losses occurred with Pau Gasol sitting out.
Of the Lakers four losses, the worst team to beat them was the Utah Jazz at 16-11. Lets compare that to the other “elite” teams in the NBA: Boston, Orlando, and Cleveland (arguably more should be in this like Phoenix, Denver, Dallas, Atlanta, but the general consensus is with these 4 teams at this point).
Cleveland: 8 losses to Boston, Toronto, Chicago, Washington, Charlotte, Memphis, Houston, and Dallas. I suppose we can throw out the losses to Dallas and Houston for Laker comparison purposes. I think its fair to forgive a loss to Boston as well. That leaves 5 losses to sub .500 teams. The Lakers have beaten Chicago twice already (once on the road), and took care of Memphis convincingly. Advantage Lakers.
Orlando: 7 losses to Detroit, Oklahoma City, Cleveland, Miami (x2), Utah, and Phoenix. Lets again throw out losses to a top tier teams like Cleveland. The Utah loss can be overlooked since the Lakers also lost to Utah. I’ll even forgive 2 losses to Miami simply because the Lakers needed a buzzer beater to beat D-Wade and company in the staples center. The Lakers have beaten Phoenix twice already, though, and Orlando couldn’t handle them. On top of that, however, Orlando lost to both Detroit and Oklahoma City. Combined, these two teams are 14-26. I’m not saying things won’t change, but to date the advantage is clearly with the Lakers.
Boston: 5 losses to Phoenix, Atlanta, Indiana, Orlando, and Philadelphia. As before, I’ll throw out a loss to an “elite” team, so we’ll forgive the loss to Orlando. Atlanta is playing top notch basketball so far and I would be remiss if I didn’t forgive that as well. Although I’ve already stated that the Lakers beat Phoenix twice already, Boston’s home loss to Phoenix could be attributed as an anomaly as well. But what about Indiana and Philadelphia? Indiana is 9 and 16. Philadelphia is 7 and 20. These teams are well under .500 and shouldn’t be beating a team as stacked as Boston. Did I mention the 76ers beat Boston in Boston? Sure, it was a close game that could easily have gone either way, but should it have even been close?
To the chagrin of Boston fans and all Laker-haters, I have to conclude once again: Advantage Lakers.
Have the Lakers been truly tested? Maybe not. Have the other “elite” teams been tested? I’d say they have, and they’ve all struggled with it. The Lakers face the Cavaliers this Friday for what many are calling their first “test” of the year (worth watching just to see Artest and Lebron go at it). Even if the Cavs come away with a victory, it doesn’t drop the Lakers from the top spot in my book: Cleveland lost to Boston, Orlando lost to Cleveland, and Boston lost to Atlanta. Everyone loses sometimes- it’s the quality of your opponents when you lose that distinguishes you.
Getting W’s on their record is not the Lakers biggest problem this season. Their biggest challenge is making those W’s convincing and absolute.
Regardless, Kobe and crew have shown us they are the cream of the crop thusfar in the 2009-10 NBA season.