Thanks to 36-year-old Tyson Chandler’s outstretched index finger, the Lakers are above .500 for the first time since Nov. 22, 2016.
Chandler, who played in only his third game with the purple and gold after getting bought out of his contract with the Phoenix Suns, blocked Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young’s potential game-winning basket in the closing seconds of regulation to secure the Lakers’ third straight win, and fifth in six games.
The block, which was immensely close to being called goaltending and only a fraction of an inch away from getting over Chandler’s reach, magnifies the sense that tides have begun to change for the Lakers.
After a rough start to the season, the Lakers looked every bit like the squad that some predicted would sputter out of the gates due to their questionable roster construction around LeBron James.
Losers of five of their first seven games, and faced with the multi-game suspensions of Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram, the Lakers predictably struggled with the initial growing pains that come with a collection of new players, and were beat up by a brutal opening schedule.
After scrambling to find lineups that showed a semblance of on-court production, it has only been recently once Rondo and Ingram returned from suspensions — coupled with the team’s acquisition of Chandler — that the Lakers’ rotations have begun to normalize.
Despite posting a negative net rating of -4.8, the team seems to have locked in the Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma and JaVale McGee starting lineup going forward. Since those starters were put in place, the team has won five of their last seven games.
Now armed with more clearly defined roles, this has allowed the Lakers to key in on improving in other areas of weakness, most notably on defense.
Since their October 29th loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves (Ingram’s return from suspension) the Lakers have allowed only a stifling 104.7 points per 100 possessions to their opponents. This defensive rating ranks as the seventh-best mark in the league within this timespan, according to Cleaning the Glass.
The team’s difficult opening slate of games also did not do many favors for a team attempting to build chemistry on the go.
Within their first 13 contests, the Lakers have played against only four teams who ended last season with a record below .500. Among these games, the majority of their opponents have also had the added advantage of continuity on their sides.
Fortunately for the Lakers, their next next ten games will likely be much more manageable than their previous batch.
Six of the Lakers’ next ten contests will be against sub-.500 teams, and two of the games against potential playoff clubs (Portland and Indiana) will be at home.
On the season, the Lakers have done exactly what they have needed to do against the teams at the bottom of the standings. In their matchups against teams that finished below .500 last season, the Lakers are currently undefeated.
This will be an important trend that needs to continue given the lighter quality of competition the team is about to face. The Lakers blew out the Suns, Kings, and held considerable leads against the Mavericks and Hawks before letting both of the latter to creep back into the games.
Approaching these contests with the same level of intensity as a team would against playoff-caliber competition has proven to be difficult in the NBA, yet if the Lakers hope to continue their recent success, this needs to be a point of emphasis.
Things are beginning to trend upward for the Lakers, and the rough patch that was the start of the 2018-19 season is beginning to feel like it’s been cleared. What the team is able to accomplish with the combination of a more balanced roster and lighter schedule ahead of them will be telling of where this group eventually can go this season.
The Lakers have had the deck somewhat stacked against them to start the season, but now more than ever seems like the ideal time for them to start making their own luck.
All stats per Cleaning the Glass. You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla.