From a technical standpoint, games don’t start to matter for the Lakers until mid-April. That’s especially true now that they’ve locked up their spot in the postseason and ended their seven-year playoff drought. But every win the Lakers get over a contender at this stage of the season is a morale boost for the postseason, and they got arguably their biggest boost to date this past weekend.
On Friday, the Lakers beat the Milwaukee Bucks, who have been far and away the best team in the NBA this season, led by the presumed MVP favorite Giannis Antetokounmpo. Then, on Sunday, the Lakers beat the Clippers, who they had lost to in their two previous matchups.
The Lakers have beaten a few other contenders this season, including the Denver Nuggets, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and Houston Rockets, but the Clippers and Bucks are widely believed to be in a different tier than any of the aforementioned teams. If there was any doubt that the Lakers were in that tier before, it should be clear that they are now.
Following the Lakers’ win over the Clippers on Sunday, LeBron James said he was encouraged by the disciplined his team showed during their toughest two-game stretch of the season.
“It’s a really good weekend for us,” James said. “Playing against two of the best teams... No matter what was going on throughout the course of the game, we held our composure and continued to get stops, continued to execute.”
James also said he was pleased with the way they protected the ball, and those two things together paint a good picture of how the Lakers have viewed all of their wins this season — it’s not about who they beat, it’s about how much they improved in that game.
”We have had some momentum, but I think this keeps it more than anything,” Frank Vogel said on Sunday. “In the regular season, losses and wins, you wipe out the result and focus on the lessons we learned in the game. We got to get better for the next one. There were some things we did well, and some things we could have done better in this game.”
Even in games they don’t win, Danny Green believes there are ways they can grow as a team.
“Learning from a win is a lot better than learning from a loss, but we want to play perfect basketball for 48 minutes, because we know we’re going to have to do that in order to be the last team standing. In wins and losses, we’re still going to continue to learn,” Green said.
The Lakers have had a lot more wins than losses this season (36 more, to be exact), but in each game they’ve lost, they’ve shown a weakness, and every time those weaknesses are shown — whether they’re mental, physical or tactical — there’s an opportunity for growth. While it was only two games, getting wins against good teams they couldn’t beat earlier in the season is a sign of growth.
In their final 20 regular season games, the Lakers will continue to try and show what they’re capable of — not for their fans or critics, but for themselves. This past weekend was a good start.