It was assumed that they would be chasing greatness right alongside the NBA champion Miami Heat, but as it turns out, the Lakers are not who we thought they were.
In a season full of surprises, L.A. has underperformed, while Miami has continued to shine. With the home stretch officially upon us, it’s clear that Miami remains the best team in basketball, while the Lakers have simply disappointed.
Entering the 2012-13 season, the Heat were expected to make a run at a championship. Nothing less would suffice, as the roster in Miami had actually improved during an exciting offseason.
Hopes were high all throughout South Beach, but then again, you could say the exact same thing about Los Angeles.
When it came to L.A., reasonable fans foresaw growing pains. Any new roster needs time to jell—especially one with a recovering Dwight Howard—but it’s easy to let fantasy quickly blur reality.
Metta World Peace set the bar high, as he declared his goal for the season: 73 wins (via Chris Fedor of Sportsradiointerviews.com). That mark has proven to be unattainable—at least for now—as the most prominent team challenging records has been the Heat.
In the midst of a 27-game winning streak that lasted from Feb. 3 to March 25, Miami came close to making NBA history. The record still belongs to the 1971-72 Lakers (33 games), and it remains safe because of a four-point loss the Heat endured to the Chicago Bulls.
But while the Lakers franchise owns the record, the current team from L.A. is simply looking to sneak into the playoffs, let alone leave its mark on the record books.
Whether or not you expected the Lakers to make history, you probably predicted a run in the playoffs. You don’t have to be a fan to recognize talent, and the possibility of a Kobe Bryant versus LeBron James Finals was as close as it had ever been.
Or so we thought.
Both of these squads got off to slow stars by their own measures, but only Miami has truly turned it around.
Winless through three games, you had to wonder if the Lakers were of the mindset that the regular season meant nothing. They were, after all, a group aiming for a title, and wins over lower-tier opponents would really be forgettable when the year came to a close.
Soon enough we came to realize that this team couldn’t simply flip a switch and get back on track—at least not the way the Heat could.
Before surging through 27 games, the Heat were 29-14. That mark put them just half a game ahead of the New York Knicks for first place in the Eastern Conference, and their average point margin was just 5.6 halfway through the year.
Then the flip switched, and the squad instantly turned things around. It boosted its average margin to 11.9 during the streak, and it took down the Knicks and the Indiana Pacers for the first time all season.
Miami looked like the team it was supposed to be from the start—the team that some thought the Lakers might be, too.
Giving credit where credit is due, the team out West has played a much more consistent brand of basketball since the All-Star break. In 22 games, L.A. has gone 15-7, and it's entered the playoff race when many people counted it out.
But while the Lakers are scrounging for wins with visible desperation, Miami is resting players while sitting 10 games ahead of the second-place Knicks.
There's no such thing as coasting for Los Angeles, as every victory will be hard-fought the rest of the way.
If we’ve learned one thing throughout the season, it’s that comparing both rosters is admittedly unfair. The Lakers can’t stay healthy, Miami has more time together and its defense has been far superior, as it’s allowing nearly six fewer points per contest.
That being said, L.A. was supposed to compete with the Heat atop the standings, which is a thought that now looks foolish with the year winding down.
Are the Lakers still dangerous? You bet they are. If they can manage to sneak into the postseason with the final seed, they might be the most talented No. 8 team we’ve ever seen.
But being dangerous and being the favorites are two vastly different concepts, and that’s what separates the newest big four from the defending NBA champions with the real season about to begin.