In the Western Conference, there’s the Los Angeles Lakers and then there is everybody else. Even with the COVID-19 interrupting play in the NBA for a couple of months, the Lakers have been in the front line from the beginning of the 2019-20 NBA season. Since the league’s restart, the Lakers have beaten the Los Angeles Clippers and knocked out the Utah Jazz.
The Lakers still have several games (5) to go before the regular season comes to an end, but the team has managed to achieve a couple of small, but important goals along the way. First, the Lakers 116-108 win against the Jazz gives them the No. 1 seeding (not that will mean much with no real homecourt advantage) throughout the conference playoffs.
The second bit of good news for the team is that it is the first time since the 2009-10 season has reached the No.1 overall seed in the Western Conference. The last time that happened the Lakers, led by the late Kobe Bryant, defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, and Boston Celtics on their way to capture the NBA title.
“Well, we’re building the right habits,” Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said in his postgame press conference. “If we’re winning enough games to secure the No. 1 seed then you’re building the right habits that’s going to be necessary for you to win in the playoffs. Obviously, we have bigger aspirations than the No. 1 seed, but we are proud of the accomplishment.”
To beat Utah, the Lakers had to shoot better from the field than they did against the Toronto Raptors in a 107-92 defeat in their second restart game. Against Toronto, the Lakers shot 35 percent from the floor. Their two leading stars-LeBron James (20 points) and Anthony Davis (14 points)-combined to score 34 points total.
“I have to play better basketball than I did to help the team win,” Davis said. “Even though I was making the right plays, I still have to be aggressive. I didn’t like the way I performed. … So it was a collective effort to come out more aggressive.”
That wasn’t the case against the Jazz. James and Davis shook off whatever offensive funk they may have had against the Raptors, the reigning NBA champs, and went back to doing what they normally do: dominate. Davis, in particular, proved to be unstoppable, scoring 42 points, the fifth time this season that he has scored 40 points or more. He also added 12 rebounds in the win against the Jazz
And like he always does, James kept the ship steady, scoring 22 points, producing a near triple-double with eight rebounds and nine assists for the game. It is the 12th time this season that Davis and James have combined to score 60 points or more. This formula has proven to be successful as the Lakers are undefeated in those games in which Davis and James exceed 60 points as a duo.
“He was very aggressive from the beginning, even though he was missing some of his looks early on, he was looking for his shot…It’s just getting into a rhythm, getting into a rhythm, and he was, like I said, being aggressive throughout the whole game,” James said of Davis.
With Davis and James going off, the rest of the Lakers (51-15) followed. As a team, the Lakers rebounded from their dreadful shooting night against Toronto to make half of their shots from the field (41-82 FG). Perhaps overlooked in the Lakers attaining the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference is that they earned their first Pacific Division title since the 2011-12 season.
It is the 24th Pacific Division title for the Lakers.
Feature photo of Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis produced by Mark Hammond for News4usonline