The Los Angeles Lakers officially clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference Monday with their win over the Utah Jazz. They now lead the Los Angeles Clippers by six games with only five left on their schedule, so the gap is insurmountable. While the seed in itself is less meaningful than it would be in normal years without home-court advantage, the feat is incredibly meaningful for a Lakers team whose future seemed extremely precarious last season.
In dominating this season, the Lakers became the first team to go from the lottery to the No. 1 seed in their conference since the 2007-08 Boston Celtics. Both teams engineered their resurrections through similar means. They started with a star small forward (Paul Pierce for the Celtics, LeBron James for the Lakers) and made the leap based on a megadeal for a star big man (Kevin Garnett for the Celtics, Anthony Davis for the Lakers). Strong veteran role players cemented both teams at the top of their respective conferences. The Celtics went on to win the championship in 2008. The Lakers hope to match that feat.
Based on their No. 1 seed, the Lakers' journey towards that elusive 17th championship will begin against one of six possible Western Conference teams. The Memphis Grizzlies currently hold the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, but the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, San Antonio Spurs, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns can all earn the right to challenge them for it in a two-game play-in by finishing the season in the No. 9 slot with a record within four games of the whoever finishes No. 8 (which, presumably, will be Memphis).
After last season ended, there was serious doubt that LeBron James would ever contend for another championship. After years of dominating the weaker Eastern Conference, prognosticators wondered if he could do the same out West. Now he will lead the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference into the playoffs as a championship favorite.