Los Angeles Lakers: Is This Team Really Improving?

Todd Pheifer@tpheiferAnalyst IIIDecember 27, 2012

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 26:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Los Angeles Lakers looses control of the ball against the defense of Kosta Koufos #41 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on December 26, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Sometimes I wonder if people just want the Los Angeles Lakers to be better than they truly are in real life.

We aren't just talking about fans. After all, the end (gasp) of their five-game winning streak has been well covered by outlets like ESPN. To be fair, whenever a team wins five or more games, it is news.

However, the Lakers seem to draw coverage that does not necessarily equal their 2012-13 accomplishments. Of course, fans and analysts enjoy good stories, which is why teams are followed when they succeed and when they struggle.

With apologies to the Wide World of Sports, we do love the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

(Oh, by the way, the Los Angeles Clippers have won 14 in a row. Just wanted to make sure that you were aware of that.)

Certainly, it is a positive sign when a team like the Lakers wins five in a row, particularly since they have enjoyed having Steve Nash back on the floor. Still, look at the record of their opponents during that streak:

Washington: 3-23

Philadelphia: 14-15

Charlotte: 7-21

Golden State: 19-10

New York: 21-8

The win over New York is very good, but the Lakers did not exactly blow away Washington, Charlotte or Golden State.

To celebrate their five-game winning streak, the Lakers gave up 126 points to the Denver Nuggets and lost by 12 points. To be fair the Nuggets can score effectively, but this is a lot of points to surrender when Los Angeles is theoretically a title contender.

Perhaps the game would have been different if Dwight Howard had not been ejected (via NBC Sports).

Power rankings do not mean much in the big picture of the sports world, but they do say something about perception. In the latest list from ESPN, the Lakers were listed as the 11th best team in the NBA.


Keep in mind that eight teams with better records than the Lakers were ranked higher than Los Angeles.

Eight teams.

Again, to be fair, the records of Los Angeles and those eight teams are pretty close. In addition, there is a certain amount of subjective analysis that allows people to judge that a team is better than their record.

Still, the Lakers continue to be like a speculative stock, which, despite all the glowing possibilities, is not making enough money to really make investors happy.

A win is a win. A streak is a streak. Going from 9-14 to 14-14 is clearly a sign of possible progress. Steve Nash is indeed back, though he is not exactly going to raise the level of defensive effectiveness.

Kobe Bryant can still score with the best of them. Dwight Howard is a top center (minus his free throw shooting).

In other words, there are certainly reasons for hope.

Unfortunately, big challenges lie ahead. We will soon find out if this Lakers team is "for real" or if they are just beating the lower echelon of the NBA.

The month of January will tell us whether this squad is really a contender or if they are a declining veteran team that is desperately hanging on to relevancy in a younger, more competitive league.

In the month of January, Los Angeles will face powerhouse teams like the Clippers, Spurs, Thunder (twice), Heat and Grizzlies. To be taken seriously, the Lakers will need to beat at least 2-3 of those teams.

The Lakers are still giving up 99.7 points per game, which is 22nd in the NBA. If defense wins championships, Los Angeles has some work to do.

Is this team really improved? Check back in late January.