This season has been a roller coaster for the Los Angeles Lakers, and its lowest points have been stomach-churning.
In October, before the season had even begun, the Lakers got caught in the middle of the conflict between Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and the Chinese government while they were in China. Then, in January, the team lost a franchise legend in Kobe Bryant, who was killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas along with eight other people, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna.
Somehow, the Lakers managed to push through all of that and establish themselves as a legitimate title contender with statement wins over competitors like the Milwaukee Bucks and LA Clippers. But just as they were hitting their stride, their most successful regular season campaign in over a decade was indefinitely suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.
While the season has resumed since then, there was no guarantee that it would.
“I mean, we didn’t know,” Quinn Cook said after the Lakers’ game on Thursday. “We didn’t know. But the first meeting that we had as an organization with Rob, Jeanie, Kurt, coach and the entire team, coach said prepare as if you’re coming back. And I think ‘Bron and AD as leaders made that very vocal as well.
“So we all prepared, we all stayed in touch as if we were coming back, not knowing if we were, but I think that propelled us to get right back together and jump to right where we left (off),” Cook continued. “Just to have that kind of mindset and kind of leadership, it’s been great for us.”
Now, after a four-month hiatus, the Lakers are more or less back to where they were before the season was suspended, with the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference secured. Going into the season, the Lakers had bigger goals than just finishing with the best regular season record in the west (and they still do), but considering the circumstances they’ve played under this season, Frank Vogel believes it’s symbolic of the work they’ve put in as a team.
“We’ve been through a lot this year, but really, all of it is just a build up to us,” Vogel said. “You know, whether we finish 1, 2, 3 — it doesn’t really matter. It just matters what we’ve been able to build from a habit standpoint, from a performance standpoint going into the playoffs. We’re here, we’re excited about it, and confident in what we can do.”
The Lakers will make their first postseason appearance in a decade next week, and just like their season to date, it will be under unusual circumstances. However, Vogel is confident that they’ll continue to persevere because of everything they’ve experienced this season.
“Obviously, no one could have foreseen the way this year was going to play out,” Vogel said. “It’s been full of challenges, but those things strengthen you and it’s an opportunity for your group to come together like our group is very tied together and confident in what we can accomplish. Hopefully we can persevere through all that stuff and go on a heck of a run here.”