Through 40 games, the Los Angeles Lakers have a record of 33-7, which is not just the best record in the Western Conference by 5.5 games; it’s the best 40-game start they’ve had since the 1999-00 season, when they finished the season with 67 wins — two wins short of their franchise record.
What’s been more impressive about this season, though, is just how quickly the Lakers have come together. While it’s true that Phil Jackson was in his first year as head coach when Los Angeles won it all in 2000, his core four of Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Robert Horry and Shaquille O’Neal had been together since the 1996-97 season, and Rick Fox joined the team the following year.
The same can’t be said of Frank Vogel and this year’s Lakers team, which features eight new players, including three new starters. In spite of that, the height of their adversity so far was a four-game losing streak against four top-10 teams in December — two of which came on the road.
Obviously having arguably the best one-two punch in the league in LeBron James and Anthony Davis has been a big part of the Lakers’ early success, but their chemistry has also played a huge role. In fact, following Monday’s win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, Jared Dudley went so far as to say the locker room is closer than any team he’s been on in his 12-year career.
“Best chemistry I’ve had on a team,” Dudley said. “Obviously I think the other team I had was the Suns, I think 2010 when we went to the Western Conference Finals. It started with LeBron in the summertime, us going to Vegas, us hanging out, half play, half work. It’s for us getting to know each other. And I think winning has a lot to do with it. Credit Frank Vogel and the staff, (with) AD and LeBron leading.
“And then we’re having fun, man. I think we actually genuinely like each other. We’ve had no beefs or hiccups, and that’s very unique even for good teams,” Dudley continued. “We went through our four-game losing streak, and in the locker room I can be a testament in telling you, it didn’t change. And when you lose three or four, people might want to play more. Might say ‘I don’t know if coach is doing this right,’ but we all stood even-keeled, no one got too high and no one got too low.”
That last bit about players not voicing their frustrations over their roles has been especially impressive.
During the aforementioned four-game losing streak, Quinn Cook was a healthy scratch three times even though it was evident the guard rotation needed a boost. But Cook didn’t complain then, and he hasn’t complained about the combined 48 minutes he’s played in the games since either.
That’s a stark contrast from last season, when a group of veteran players — JaVale McGee among them — got into a heated verbal argument with Luke Walton over their roles. Granted, that team was much worse, but the lack of drama in the locker room this season is a testament to the quality of veterans on this year’s Lakers team, and Dudley is among the best of them, according to James.
“Dudz is great, man, one of the best teammates I’ve ever had, whether he’s making shots or not,” James said.
We’ll see what happens if the Lakers run into real adversity later in the season, but as of now, there’s no reason to believe there’s anything they can’t handle as a team, which is a good indicator that they’re a true championship contender.