Numbers Don’t Lie: That Three-Peat vs. This Three-Peat

There are 20 regular season games left on the Lakers’ schedule.  Since the All-Star Game the trade deadline has come and gone, and all the attention has turned to the playoff race.  Wins and losses are more emphasized as seeding begins to take shape and home-court advantage is determined.

Despite a 5-0 start after the All-Star break, I think we’ll still hear the recurring rants of age and complacency from the media.  So I thought we should take a closer look at some actual numbers.  I have always felt there is much to be said about trends and rankings.  So, to make it interesting, we’ll compare what happened during the Lakers’ first three-peat to what’s happening in their current campaign.  To do that, let’s narrow it down to three major categories – conference standing, points and rebounds.

Let’s start with the overall picture.  Before the 2000 playoffs, the Lakers finished 1st in the West during the regular season with a 67-15 record.  They finished 2nd in 2001 at 56-26, and 3rd in 2002 at 58-24.  Their record significantly dropped the latter two years, and so did their conference rank.  In fact, in 2002 they didn’t even win the Pacific Division, Sacramento did.  Heading into the 2002 playoffs, as two-time defending champions, the Lakers had big, big problems.  Was it now Kobe’s team? Was it still Shaq’s team? Could Phil bring these misfits together? Why couldn’t they even win their own division?

Fast forward.  In 2009, the Lakers finished atop the West at 65-17, again in 2010 at 56-26 and in the middle of February, 2011, currently sit 3rd in the conference at 43-19.  Now before we move on, let’s imagine the season has ended.  The Lakers’ current winning percentage is .694.  If they keep on that track, they win 13 games and lose 9.  I took a look at the remaining schedule and, completely free-handed and objective, tallied up my guesses of wins and losses.  Sure enough it came out to exactly 13-9.  So I’ll go with that.  The Lakers are two games behind Dallas.  I feel Dallas’ remaining schedule is a tad more favorable, so I’ll keep them as finishing 2nd in the conference.  I project the Lakers to finish 3rd, just like they did in 2002.

It’s extremely hard for any team in any sport to finish at the top of their conference three years in a row (which the Lakers have already done from 2008-2010), even if it is a defending championship team.  We all know the Lakers do not necessarily need to finish strong.  They need to finish healthy.  While the team’s road trip before the All-Star break was mostly successful, the only time my heart really jumped was when Andrew Bynum was shown holding his leg after an offensive series against Orlando.

Kobe Bryant addressed this very issue back in January in some post-game comments after beating Detroit by 25 points.  The difference between his 2002 team and his 2011 team?  Bryant explained that while both teams were awful, the 2002 team was dysfunctional.  “It’s much better now than it was [then]?” Bryant said.

Next Scoring and Rebounds

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