There are times when, as a blog devoted to a team that is the target of a lot of denigration, we here at Silver Screen and Roll are forced to defend the Los Angeles Lakers against misleading or blatantly false analysis directed their way. Last season, for instance, the Lakers started the season with 17 of their first 21 games in Staples Center, and everyone outside Lakers Nation was up in arms at this gross "advantage" given to the defending champs. However, we showed that, while having games at home is certainly an advantage, a team's quality of opponent is a better determining factor for whether a schedule is easy or hard, and the Lakers' strength of schedule was one of the toughest in the league through that 17 of 21 stretch. Everybody and their mother wanted to sound off about the Lakers' "big" advantage, and we had to set the record straight.
Sometimes we are forced to defend the Lakers against the misinformed and the biased NBA masses. This is not one of those times.
The Lakers have played the easiest schedule in the league, and there isn't a close second. Laker opponents have won just 41% of their games. Charlotte has had the second easiest schedule, and their opponents have won 43% of their games, which is a large difference. To a small extend, the Lakers poor strength of schedule can be considered a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you win a lot of games, your opponents look weaker simply because they lost to you. In fact, that just about accounts for the difference between the Lakers and the Bobcats. If the Bobcats had the Lakers record, their strength of schedule would be .415. But all that means is that the Lakers have company in having played an extremely easy schedule. A look at the teams with truly elite records shows that all of them have done it against superior competition. Boston's opponents have a .514 winning percentage. San Antonio's opponents are at .482. Dallas has played the toughest schedule of those in the top 5, withh an opposing win percentage of .53. Even Miami's opponents have been significantly harder than L.A.'s at .483. A look at individual games paints the same picture. The Lakers have yet to play any team in the top five (of which there are only 4 other teams because they are a member), and they've played only 4 games against the top ten (they are 1-3 in those games, winning only against Chicago).
And the truth is, easy street isn't going away quite yet. The Lakers play the Heat and San Antonio this week and next, but besides those opponents, the Lakers still won't see their SOS climb north until the middle of January. Basically, they will have played over half their season feasting on cupcakes. And then, of course, the chickens will come home to roost in a major way. The last half of January will see the Lakers play opponents with an average winning percentage of .646. February's opponents currently project at .540, March's at .536, and April's at .582.
The Lakers haven't exactly thrived on their bake sale of a schedule. That doesn't mean the Lakers will struggle when they start playing good teams, but it is a cause for concern. Based on who they've played, you would hope it would be L.A. who is leading the way in the Western Conference, but they sit third behind Dallas and San Antonio, two and four games (in the loss column) back respectively. Eventually, the schedule will get a lot tougher, and the Lakers will have to raise their level of play in order to come out on top once again.
But not tonight. Tonight, the Lakers once again face a not very good team, and "not very good" is a phrase I'm rather sick of these days. The opponent is the Milwaukee Bucks, a team the Lakers beat in a very strange contest in Milwaukee early in the season. In that game, the Lakers gave up 108 points to a team that has the worst offense in the league, and I actually thought they played good defense in doing so. They took the Bucks' best shot and still won the game by double digits on the road, so using that game as a baseline for expectations, the Lakers should win handily tonight as well.
The Bucks were the surprise team of 2010 and they were aggressive in the offseason with the intent of joining the small middle class of the Eastern Conference. However, none of their moves is panning out very well. After John Salmons killed it for them last season, they signed him to a new contract in the offseason, and he has responded by shooting sub 40% and chalking up a PER of around 11 (an average player is 15). Corey Magette was also signed for relatively big bucks (no pun intended) and has similarly failed to produce as expected. Now, with Brandon Jennings (who is their leading scorer despite, you guessed it, sub 40% shooting) out for 4-6 weeks due to injury, the Bucks just lost the rudder on an already sinking ship.
They do have Andrew Bogut, who is one of the few guys in this league that can stand toe to toe with the Lakers front line. However, there is only one of him, and the Lakers front line is now relatively whole. Milwaukee is on the second night of a back to back (from Portland no less) and they lost last night by 26. There is simply no reason to believe this will be a contest. It's a line we've been forced to use a lot around here this season, and since there is currently a 7 in the Lakers loss column, it's a line we've regretted a few times, too. Tonight, coming off of a long road trip, and with three full days off before a massively hyped game, it's quite possible the Lakers will overlook their opponent.
It's also quite likely they can get away with it. Such is the way so far this season.