The 2019-20 regular season was going pretty well for the Lakers, with 49 wins and 14 losses by March 10th. However, after almost four months off because of the COVID-19 shutdown, many are wondering if the Lakers will be able to pick up where they left off?
A brief look back at the darkest time for the LA Lakers
Before we get into the Laker’s 2020 post-shutdown performance, we need to take a look back at their regular season games for the last six years to better understand what a shift 2020 was.
I can only use three words to describe their performance during this period: what a mess.
Between 2013 and 2019, the Lakers repeatedly failed to make the playoffs. Yes, the Lakers had missed playoffs in the past, but the last time they missed more than one year in a row was in 1976.
There are many reasons why the team continued to fail during this period, but one event in the 2018-19 preseason highlights a key problem the team had. This event involved the team’s megastar, LeBron James, and broke the already fragile connections in the team.
How LeBron James killed the Lakers’ chemistry
In mid-June 2019, rumors began to circulate that Anthony Davis would be traded from the Pelicans to the Lakers. This in itself wasn’t a huge problem, but apparently the way LeBron spoke about the trade was. An NBA executive speaking to The Bleacher Report claimed James killed the Lakers’ chemistry with his tone around the discussions. “He shouldn’t have been so public about it. Even during the All-Star draft, he laughed about [wanting Davis to be his teammate].”
The Lakers were already faltering, and this shattered what little trust the team still had. They ended the 2018-19 season with a result of 37-45 (.451).
The Lakers are back
Despite not making the playoffs at the end of the 2018-19 season, something amazing happened the following year. The Lakers started winning games, and once they started, they were hard to stop. By the time the shutdown came into effect on March 11th 2020, the Lakers had won 49 and only lost 14 games, giving them an impressive win loss percentage of 0.778.
While there were a number of reasons why this amazing recovery took place, a big part of their improvement was the steps that the new team had taken to rebuild their chemistry.
This was obvious to fans and analysts alike. The host of The Jump on ESPN, Rachel Nichols, mentioned how this new Lakers team was clearly having a good time, even in the locker room.
This sentiment was mirrored by Jared Dudley in a discussion with SB Nation a few days earlier. Dudley, no stranger to teams with great chemistry, said the locker room was closer than any other team he’d been with before. Dudley said “It started with LeBron in the summertime, us going to Vegas, us hanging out, half play, half work. It’s for us getting to know each other.”
Dudley shared how positive the Lakers team felt. “We went through our four-game losing streak, and in the locker room I can be a testament in telling you, it didn’t change. And when you lose three or four, people might want to play more. Might say ‘I don’t know if the coach is doing this right,’ but we all stood even-keeled, no one got too high and no one got too low.”
A couple of months later, a few days after the pause, Dwight Howard also shared his thoughts on the team’s chemistry:
“Just the chemistry we had before this was off the roof,” he said. “And then now, it’s like we have to build that up again. We got to get that engine flowing … But I think with the group of guys that we have, I also think with the hunger that we have to win a championship, once we get back it will be like we never left each other.”
Unfortunately, Howard might have been wrong.
The Lakers stumble after the restart
The Lakers are back on the court inside the Disney World bubble, but their play has undoubtedly taken a hit. LeBron’s scoring has dropped to an average 19.3 points per game, but this may be due to a flare up of a nagging groin injury. Unfortunately, this is not the only sign of trouble, as the team as a whole has only averaged 99.3 points, a field-goal percentage of 39.8, 25.2 percent of their three-point shots, and 8.8 three-pointers per game.
Thankfully it’s not all bad news. Their defense is still incredibly strong, with the team holding a third place defensive rating, a key element that undoubtedly helped them claim the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference after they recently defeated the Utah Jazz.
Moving forward in the bubble
The Lakers may have secured their playoff spot, but the team is going to have to adapt to the bubble, and they’re going to have to do it fast. Especially if they want to make it all the way to the finals against the likes of the Bucks, Clippers, Celtics, and Raptors. These teams are all on form, and if the Lakers don’t figure something out soon, one of these teams may put an end to the Lakers’ Cinderella story.