Even before the 2019/2020 season had started, the Los Angeles Lakers were seen as an NBA title favorite along with the Milwaukee Bucks, Houston Rockets, and their rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers.
However, the Lakers are the only team that has managed to do anything noteworthy. The others were all eliminated before conference finals, while Frank Vogel’s squad is only two wins away from winning the whole thing.
Still, questions remain. The team is coming off its weakest performance in a month. The lopsided 115-104 loss saw the Heat come out strong while building multiple double-digit leads throughout the contest.
The Lakers have not dropped two games to any team in the playoffs, but a loss tonight would even the series and cut it down to a best of three where anything could happen.
How They Got Here
Last year the Lakers added LeBron James and still missed last year’s playoffs for the sixth consecutive year. This past summer, they traded away their entire young core to the New Orlean’s Pelicans for Anthony Davis. Suddenly a juggernaut was born. The Lakers cruised to the best record in the Western Conference before the season was put on hiatus.
Arriving in the Orlando bubble in July to resume the season, the Lakers seemed to stumble a bit before finding their groove in the first round of the basketball playoffs.
After dropping the first game to the Portland Trail Blazers, they ran off four straight wins to advance. Next, they took down the Rockets in five games, advancing to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2010. The Denver Nuggets beat the Clippers in seven games but were no match for the Lakers who again made it a short five-game series before advancing to the NBA Finals and a chance to win their 17th NBA title.
At the end of last season, Rob Pelinka replaced Magic Johnson as the chief basketball decision-maker. Head coach Luke Walton was immediately let go and rumors swirled replaced he’d be replaced by ex-Laker Tyronn Lue, they surprised many and inked Frank Vogel to a three-year contract. Vogel was a puzzling pick. In parts of eight seasons as a head coach, Vogel notched wins in just over half of his games. He had a 304-291 record with Indiana and Orlando.
However, Vogel turned into a fantastic tactical fit for the team. He’s turned the Lakers into a defensive powerhouse, and defense wins championships. He has also shown himself more than able to make the critical in-game adjustments that are often the difference between winning and losing in the playoffs. An example is how he went small, benching Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee in favor of Markieff Morris to combat the Houston Rockets small-ball play.
Vogel has also been keen on handling his veterans and young players. He knows when to give veteran role-players like Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo the latitude to play their games, and has done an excellent job in nurturing the growth of Alex Caruso and Kyle Kuzma. No matter how you look at it, Vogel has been a perfect fit.
Obviously, the biggest change has been the addition of Davis. The Davis trade that had been discussed during the season finally came to fruition during the off-season, but to their surprise, the team failed to convince Kawhi Leonard, the biggest free-agent on the market last summer, to join them. Worse, he signed with the Clippers along with Paul George in what might have been the biggest snub of the Lakers all-time.
Failing in that, Pelinka wasted no time and set about building a roster that would best complement their superstar duo of James and Davis. Putting a premium on veterans with championship-level experience, they brought in Danny Green, Rajon Rondo, Quinn Cook, JaVale McGee, Dwight Howard, and eventually even J.R. Smith to play with holdovers Alex Caruso, Kyle Kuzma, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The result was the best team in the Western Conference.
On January 26, one of the greatest NBA stars of all time, Kobe Bryant, and his daughter Gianna lost their lives in a helicopter accident. This horrible loss has been felt throughout the season, with numerous players across all sports paying tribute to the father-daughter duo by wearing sports jerseys and adorning purple and gold equipment together with numbers 2, 24, and 8.
However, nowhere has his loss been more felt than with the Lakers and their fans. Winning the title again would probably be the greatest way to honor Kobe and the legacy he left behind. They’ve already channeled Kobe once during Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals vs Denver. Down by a single point with less than three seconds to go, Davis stepped up to take the game-winning buzzer-beater three over Nuggets center Nikola Jokic.
After the game, Davis said that it was because of the black Mamba jerseys that they were able to get a win.
Davis said. “This is what they brought me here for. To make big-time plays. Obviously, we win in the Mamba jerseys. Never wanna lose in these jerseys, never wanna lose at all.”
The Los Angeles Lakers are two games away from the NBA title. Game four against the Miami Heat tonight.