On Nov. 12, 2022, the Los Angeles Lakers were in last place in the Western Conference. They had a 2-10 record that was somehow uglier than the standings even suggested. They ranked dead last in the NBA in offense, 28th in net rating and 17th in defense. Russell Westbrook proved nearly as poor a fit off the bench as he did in the starting lineup, LeBron James was finally starting to look his age, and Anthony Davis still hadn't recaptured the form that made him an NBA champion in 2020. Virtually nobody around the NBA believed that the Lakers were headed for a successful season in the middle of November.
But on Friday, the Lakers accomplished the seemingly impossible. With their win over the Phoenix Suns, they earned their 42nd victory of the season. Regardless of what happens on Sunday against the Utah Jazz, that win guaranteed that the Lakers would finish the season with a winning record. In the process, they became only the sixth team in NBA history to get there after a 2-10 start, joining the Chicago Bulls (in 1976-77 and 2004-05), New Jersey Nets (1981-82 and 2004-04) and Seattle Supersonics (1977-78), according to ESPN Stats & Info.
"I was just telling AD, I was like, 'Man, can you believe that we're going to finish this season above .500? After everything that's gone on this season?'" James told reporters after the victory. "We've turned this thing around. And it's the regular season, obviously, there's a lot more basketball to be played. But to know that we're going to finish a few games above .500? It's pretty cool."
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Teams that James has played for have finished below .500 only three times in his career: his rookie season of 2003-04, and then the injury-laced campaigns of 2018-19 and 2021-22. He has now secured his 17th winning season, and assuming the Lakers can survive the play-in round, he will play in the playoffs for the 16th time as a professional.
But James will still finish the season having missed at least 27 games. Anthony Davis will have missed at least 26. Both thrived when the other needed to sit due to injury, and the supporting cast rose to challenge as the season progressed. The Lakers are now 17-9 since flipping Westbrook for the depth they've lacked since 2021, and now, they enter the postseason with their strongest overall roster since winning the championship in 2020.
That remains the goal for this group, but whether or not it is what is achieved, the Lakers accomplished something remarkable this season. The entire league was ready to write them off in November. They've clawed their way back into the postseason picture, and whatever happens there, they'll be able to say they at least joined a historic group of teams just by making it that far.