Despite trailing frequently in the first half, the Lakers began the season with a 13-1 record, the second best in franchise history. They’ve been living dangerously, and history shows that NBA teams who do that eventually pay the price.
But is this Laker team so talented it can overcome the bad habit of starting slowly and become only the second team in league history to win 70 of 82 regular season games? There’s a lot of speculation that they can and will do it.
Coach Phil Jackson isn’t so sure. “We have to be much more alert coming into games,” he said. “A lot of teams can surprise you.”
The Lakers have trailed Dallas twice and New Jersey once by double digits in recent games – the Mavericks by 12 points late in the third quarter November 28 at Staples Center. Each time they rallied to win.
They have so much depth that over 48 minutes opponents can’t finish them off.
But there are some important things to consider.
First, the Lakers haven’t had any significant injuries yet. Second, they haven’t been on extensive road trips.
Most NBA teams don’t escape injuries throughout the long season. If Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum must miss games, those close wins could become losses. And that goes for Trevor Ariza and Jordan Farmar too, because as reserves they’re providing the energy that’s overcoming the early deficits.
Eventually all NBA teams fight fatigue caused by travel, and games piling up, resulting in the absence of practice time.
A team with a favorable schedule, like this Laker team has had, can correct mistakes in practices. But a team playing on the road, flying immediately to the next city, playing again the next day, doesn’t have that luxury.
Sometimes a good team gets through a tough trip only to lose the next game at home as fatigue catches up. When I traveled with Laker teams during Pat Riley’s reign as coach, he often considered the first home game after a trip the most dangerous one.
The 82-game schedule is the test of every NBA team. This Laker team will soon begin its heavy travel and then we’ll learn more about them.
Another reason to hold off on any premature celebrations is because no matter how well the Lakers do in the regular season they’ll have to do it all over again in the playoffs when everything is decided.
The major reward for the regular season is a favorable playoff seed, an advantage not to be minimized. But there are many examples of bottom rung playoff teams upsetting favorites in the playoffs, the most recent one being Golden State’s first round shocker over Dallas a couple of years ago. The Mavericks won 67 regular season games that season.
So, if you’re a Laker fan, I suggest you enjoy the victories and keep getting pleasure from the entertainment. Just keep in mind there’s a long way to go, and beware of what might happen.