Lakers prove they can beat good teams by crushing Jazz, doubters are running out of material
What's left to debate with this stellar Lakers team?
The goalposts just keep moving for the Los Angeles Lakers. Minds were made up on this team the moment it lost its opening night showdown with the Los Angeles Clippers, and as such, nothing ever seems to be good enough. Follow up that Clippers loss with a three-game winning streak? Prove you can do it on the road. Sweep the road trip that follows? Doesn't matter if the offense keeps struggling. Score 115 points per 100 possessions over their last 13 games (third-best mark in the NBA during that span)? Prove that you can do it against good teams.
Of course, they already had. Even entering Wednesday, the Lakers carried an impressive portfolio of wins. Road wins against the Mavericks and Nuggets are about as impressive as it gets. They held the Miami Heat to 80 points. As baseless as the criticism was, it was persistent.
In that sense, Wednesday's 121-96 shellacking of the Utah Jazz reads like a Mad Lib. "Go beat a Finals contender," a doubter may have challenged. "By 25 points... on the road... on the second night of a back-to-back... without Avery Bradley... while half of your roster deals with a flu outbreak." Challenge accepted. Challenge completed. And at this point, few challenges are left to be issued.
The Lakers do not have a perfect roster, but through 22 games, finding a discernible flaw in their on-court performance is practically impossible. They have the No. 4 defense and No. 6 offense in basketball. They lead the NBA in blocks and are a top-ten team in terms of rebounding rate and assist-to-turnover ratio. They are 20th in the NBA in pace, but still third in the league in terms of fast-break points per game. They haven't lost outside of the city of Los Angeles.
The less favorable numbers are circumstantially explainable. They don't draw many fouls? Wait until LeBron James shifts his focus from passing to scoring. They don't shoot enough 3-pointers? That changes when Anthony Davis moves to center, which figures to be his primary position in the postseason.
Even the palace intrigue has hit marvelous new lows. Jason Kidd's seemingly inevitable coup has surely been delayed by Frank Vogel's 19-3 start. Months have passed since an anonymous source touted the front-office influence of a seemingly underqualified executive.
With a quarter of the season in the books, there have been no controversies, no subtweets and no panics. They haven't fallen victim LeBron's traditional slow start with a new team, nor have they given him a reason to say a single negative word about the on-court product. Through 22 games, the Lakers have been nothing less than a juggernaut, and one that has immunized itself from the criticism that has dogged both past Lakers teams and James' own former squads.
None of this makes the Lakers' bulletproof. They aren't going to maintain their 71-win pace. The cracks in the roster will become real weaknesses. They'll probably lose to the Clippers again at some point.
But it is a testament to what a strong team this is from top to bottom. It hasn't mattered who they've played, what they've been faced with or whose been absent. The Lakers just keep winning, and even if the pace with which they are doing so is unsustainable, the general trend appears immutable. With no more asterisks or conditions, the Lakers are championship contenders. It's time the broader basketball world treats them as such.
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