Well, let’s take a quick look at the NBA Western Conference standings entering Friday, March 10, 2023.
Yes, the Lakers are still parked in the 9th seed. And as you can see, they certainly have a chance to move up significantly as we enter the last four weeks of the regular season. The Los Angeles Lakers have 16 games left.
The first of 16 is against a team that pummeled them earlier in the season: the Toronto Raptors.
Their first match-up felt like years ago. They faced each other on December 7 and the Raptors smacked the Lakers around in an ugly blowout. Toronto led by as many as 27 points even though they didn’t shoot very well. The Lakers also didn’t have LeBron James nor Anthony Davis.
Three months later and things look decidedly different. The Lakers changed half of their team and the Raptors acquired Jakob Poeltl and Will Barton. Still, while some things change, some stay the same. Toronto still has a ton of wings with ridiculous wingspan. Their defense isn’t horrendous despite the ranking; they may be 17th in defensive rating but they’re also only 0.5 points allowed per 100 possessions behind the 10th best defense in the Minnesota Timberwolves. So the Raptors are going to bother the Lakers with their length.
Fred VanVleet (coming off a now-infamous referee rant) is still there. So is O.G. Anunoby. VanVleet’s having an up and down season (though his March has been excellent) while OG has been trying to bounce back from a sprained wrist. Pascal Siakam’s numbers have dipped a bit but he is still having an incredible season at 24.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 6.0 assists per game.
Poeltl just added more length and defense and teams can never have enough of that. The Raptors also have last year’s Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes and as of late, Gary Trent Jr. has provided his firepower off the bench. Their record doesn’t indicate it but this is still a dangerous team.
The Lakers have won their last couple of games due to the supporting cast stepping it up while Anthony Davis continues to be dominant. And they’re going to get more help as D’Angelo Russell returns to the starting line-up. As much as the wins have been impressive, the Lakers still needed another playmaker badly. Davis did his best against Memphis and while it was admirable, he ended up turning the ball over 7 times.
L.A. won’t have Mo Bamba, though. He was diagnosed with an ankle sprain and is likely out for the remainder of the regular season. Wenyen Gabriel will have to provide more punch off the bench.
The Lakers are 7-3 ever since the new guys started playing. Another significant stat? Ever since Feb. 11th (the first game where all the trade acquisitions played), the Lakers defense has been the best in the league. So their defense is back and this is going to be huge for the rest of the season.
Like I said, these two teams are much different than last December. The Raptors, who seem to be going through the motions as of late, are trying to salvage their road trip that is currently 1-3. The Lakers, who have been fighting uphill this whole season, could be one game below .500 with a win and haven’t been that all year (besides being 0-1, that is).
With the way the West is, March Madness also seems to be happening in men’s professional basketball.