In a Season of Parity, the Lakers — Again — Stand on History’s Doorstep

In a Season of Parity, the Lakers — Again — Stand on History’s Doorstep article feature image

Tyler Ross/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers.

"Anyone can win! It's wide open!"

Parity was the story of the NBA season. There were no dominant teams. The playoffs saw constant upsets; the conference finals will feature the No. 8 seed in one conference and the No. 7 seed in the other.

And in the end, after all this uncertainty and supposed chaos … the Los Angeles Lakers, the most decorated team of the last 50 years in the NBA, the team tied for the most championships and the team with six titles in the past 23 years, and the team with LeBron James, is just four wins from the NBA Finals, eight from the championship.

My favorite betting stat in the NBA is this: If you bet $100 on the Lakers to win the championship every single season since 2000, you’d be up $105 going into this postseason.

Twenty-two seasons. The worst stretch in franchise history between 2013 and 2018. And you'd still be up.

The arc of NBA history bends towards the Lakers.

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To give the Lakers the respect they very justly deserve, they've had to scrape and claw to get here. They pulled off a coup of a trade to add four rotation-level players in exchange for Russell Westbrook, a first-round pick, and some second-rounders.

Anthony Davis has stayed on the floor and been superb. James looks every bit 38 years old, but he was also the best player on the floor in a closeout game against the now former champs, who had never lost a Western Conference playoff series until Friday night.

Rui Hachimura stepped up in the Memphis Grizzlies series with the offense they needed. Dennis Schröder (+9.1) and Austin Reaves (+9.3) have the best on-court Net Ratings for any Laker; L.A. has dominated in their minutes.

They had to go through the No. 2 seed Grizzlies and the 2022 champion Golden State Warriors. That's an incredibly tough path (on the surface).

They could have spiraled off when James was hurt late in the season. Yes, the post-All-Star strength of schedule was incredibly soft, but they still won the games to get into the Play-In Tournament, and they didn't benefit from the play-in. They just held their No. 7 seed.

The Lakers found chemistry on the fly and a confidence that has carried them to the conference finals.

Now they face the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets have been a better team this season. They have the two-time MVP, who has arguably been the best player in the playoffs. They have the No. 1 offense in the playoffs (and the No. 5 defense).

They should lose. They are dogs, again, just as they were to the Grizzlies and Warriors. The Nuggets have more continuity, a better starting five, and home court where they have been almost unbeatable this season (and literally unbeaten in the playoffs through six games).

But these are the Lakers with LeBron James.

The Warriors had been 19-0 in West playoff series since 2015 before the Lakers managed to defeat them tonight.

Meanwhile, LeBron and AD are now 26-11 in the postseason as a duo. They’re 6-1 in playoff series, with the one loss coming to PHX in 2021 after AD got hurt.

— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) May 13, 2023

Can the Denver Nuggets, of all teams, really be the one to do what the Grizzlies, with their youth and swagger, and the Warriors, with their greatness and championship mettle, could not?

A team with no Finals appearances, let alone titles? A team that has never beaten the Lakers in the playoffs? A team with Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray instead of James and Davis?

The basketball played, and the stats may say the Lakers have no chance, but these playoffs are about how nothing is certain, the regular season means nothing, and the Lakers have all the momentum.

More than that, though, this is the story of NBA history: the Lakers, with an all-time great player, bursting through the gates of history.

We'll find out if this Lakers team is made of that same legendary magic that has come to define the franchise.

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Nick Sterling
Jul 21, 2024 UTC