The Los Angeles Lakers' surprising, shocking, unexpected, run-this-blog-out-of-adjectives start has led to a lot of optimisim in Lakerland. The team has played good basketball on both ends of the floor (more on that in a minute) and had a chance to win every game they've played in in the fourth quarter.
Their head coach has noticed, and it's made him excited about the team's chances every night.
"Our guys have proven that when they play hard and they are engaged in what they are doing they are capable of beating anyone on any night," Walton told the media after the game (as trancscribed by Serena Winters of Lakers Nation).
Silver Screen and Roll ran the numbers and checked with league sources*, and we confirmed the Lakers' do mathematically have a chance to win every game this year.
But in all seriousness, why are the Lakers so much more competitive this year? Glad you asked.
The team has improved from 29th in offensive efficiency and 30th in defensive efficiency to 14th and 16th in both of those categories, respectively. The Lakers are also playing with more discipline and engagement on both ends of the floor more consistently.
Their biggest issue so far might be their slow starts, a problem Walton says they'll have to fix if they want to win games on a more regular basis.
"To come out and start game with that type of mindset is something we can't live with," Walton said of another slow start in their game against the Kings, and lethargy out of the gates has been a real problem for the team.
The Lakers rank 23rd in the NBA in first quarter points and 22nd in first quarter offensive efficiency, while ranking fourth and sixth in those categories, respectively, in the fourth quarter, so Walton was dead on about the team starting slow but putting themselves in a position to win late.
There are still positives to take from this issue for Los Angeles. The team improving in the second half means they aren't quitting despite disparities that might seem difficult or impossible to overcome. Jumping out of the gates stronger following halftime also indicates that a) this coaching staff is making adjustments based on what they're seeing and communicating what the team needs to do better effectively to their players and b) the players are receiving the message rather than giving up.
All metrics aside, the bottom line is this: The Lakers are playing over their heads early and giving themselves a real shot at victory every night, which after three-straight years of setting new lows for the worst record in franchise history is all fans could have realistically asked for from their rebuilding team.
*we did neither of these things.
All stats per NBA.com. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen. For more on Walton and the Lakers, check out our latest episode below: