After suffering through the loss of their favorite son early in the year, the Los Angeles Lakers finally returned to the summit of basketball last month.
All eyes were on how the pairing of LeBron James and Anthony Davis would work out in 2019-20 following LeBron’s difficult first season in Los Angeles. Along the way, the Lakers had to mourn the tragic death of five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant in a January helicopter crash.
Add in the coronavirus pandemic and their struggles early on in the Orlando bubble, and the Lakers’ quest to end a six-year playoff drought and win their first title since 2009-10 was far from easy.
However, the Western Conference’s top seed managed to defy the ominous challenges to win 16 of its last 20 games at Walt Disney World Resort, including a 4-2 series victory over the Miami Heat in the Finals.
As the Lakers reflect on their memorable 17th championship that equaled the Boston Celtics’ all-time record, let’s take a deeper dive into what the club accomplished this year and what it might look like next season.
RETURN TO GLORY
The Lakers hadn’t been to the postseason since 2013, when the San Antonio Spurs swept them out of the first round. But behind James’ 11th Finals triple-double in Game 6, Los Angeles matched a league record for longest playoff drought snapped before winning a title.
The Portland Trail Blazers also had a six-year absence from the postseason before winning it all in 1977.
ALL-STAR DYNAMIC DUO
So much was expected of the Lakers duo when Davis finally arrived in a trade from the New Orleans Pelicans at the start of the season. James was desperate to team up with a genuine superstar at Staples Center after a forgettable first term in Los Angeles, where the former was hampered by injury and the club parted ways with Luke Walton following another season without a playoff appearance.
Davis’ arrival and the appointment of Frank Vogel helped put the Lakers on track as the city rival Los Angeles Clippers countered with their own superstar duo – Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
It’s safe to say the pairing of Davis and LeBron worked out. They became the first teammates in NBA history to each have 500-plus points and 200-plus rebounds in the same postseason.
The Lakers turned things around in Orlando by going to their big two more. James averaged 22.0 points and Davis scored 21.6 per game while LA dropped six of its first nine games in the bubble. But during the Lakers’ 12-2 run that sent them into the Finals, Davis averaged 28.9 points while more than doubling his field-goal attempts (102 to 237) and James scored 27.0 per game.
JULY 30 – AUGUST 18 (LAKERS 3-6)
AUGUST 20 – SEPTEMBER 26 (LAKERS 12-2)
James, who won his fourth title, also became the first player in NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL history to win the Finals MVP award for three different teams, having also been crowned with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Heat.
The Lakers have a history with aging stars leading them to championships. The three oldest players ever to win the Finals MVP all did so while playing for the famed franchise – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38 years and 54 days) in 1985, James (35 years and 286 days) and Wilt Chamberlain (35 years and 260 days) in 1972.
With all the spotlight on James and Davis, Lakers big men Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee made significant contributions, especially during the regular season.
Howard and McGee became the first teammates to each have at least 75 blocks and shoot at least 60% from the field in the same regular season since blocks became an official stat in 1973-74.
The return of 2004 No. 1 pick Howard after a disappointing first tenure in Los Angeles in 2012-13 proved a shrewd piece of business.
OVERCOMING 3-POINT WOES
There was so much good about the Lakers in 2019-20, but their shooting from beyond the arc remains a problem.
Los Angeles has shot under 35.0% from 3-point range in the regular season in each of the last six years, the longest active streak in the league. That is also the longest streak for the Lakers since they shot under 35.0% in seven consecutive seasons from 1979-80 to 1985-86, which was the first seven campaigns the 3-point line was in existence.
The Lakers became the first team to win the title despite shooting a lower percentage from 3-point range than their opponents in the playoffs since the 2000 LA team.
STATS PERFORM’S VERDICT: EVOLUTION
Of course, we’re not going to say the Lakers should break things up after proving to be the best team in basketball. But that very well could have been the case if Davis was to pull a one-and-done much as Kawhi did by leaving for the Clippers after winning the title in his only season in Toronto.
By all accounts, Davis is expected to decline his 2020-21 player option and re-sign with the Lakers for another run at a title before LeBron has a chance to become a free agent in 2021.
LA still could look very different next season with Howard and Markieff Morris set to enter unrestricted free agency and Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope expected to decline their player options. Avery Bradley, who was a starter before opting out of the restart, holds a $5 million player option for next season.
By offering a chance to win a ring, the Lakers shouldn’t have much trouble filling the holes while seeking to add 3-point shooting in the offseason. They’ll likely be the favorites to repeat next season.
Lineup data modeling provided by Matt Scott.
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