The Lakers knew they had their work cut out for them heading into the extended weekend. On their plates were a pair of matches deemed to define their last-quarter blitz through the 2019–20 season. Considering their status as tops in Western Conference standings, and with a relatively healthy lead over the best of the rest, the outcomes of the set-tos didn’t appear nominally critical. On the other hand, more than simple bragging rights were at stake for them. The Bucks and Clippers just so happened to be the biggest stumbling blocks to their championship hopes, and not for nothing had they been a combined zero and three against the powerhouses.
The Lakers would go on to pass the tests, and with aplomb. With reason, they have refused to publicly concede the significance of their victories beyond the here and now; there remains a lot of hoops to be played, and the depth of the competition extends no guarantees of success in the postseason. Yet, there can be no discounting the value of their immediate past body of work against the Bucks and Clippers. They didn’t simply win. They did so emphatically, and in a manner that speaks to their strengths versus pundits’ favorites.
Needless to say, the Lakers turned to their resident marquee names to carve the triumphs. Against the Bucks, Most Valuable Player candidate LeBron James proved superior. And he wasn’t just engaged on offense per usual; he stayed locked in at the other end of the court as well, holding down otherwise-unstoppable Giannis Antetokounmpo’s numbers to substantial effect. Meanwhile, fellow All-Star Anthony Davis put up a solid line to backstop the effort. Parenthetically, yesterday unveiled more of the same, with the two delivering in the crunch to claim their 11th win in 12 outings.
If there’s anything the Lakers showed over the weekend, it’s that they possess unparalleled versatility, not to mention the chops to use it efficiently. They went big against the Bucks, giving traditional centers JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard a combined 31 minutes to help contain Antetokounmpo’s length. And then they went small versus the Clippers, with the two logging a mere 19 minutes on aggregate. Yesterday, Davis spent a not inconsiderable amount of time at the five spot, clearly in an effort to keep the defense tight while allowing for constant switching.
The Lakers may or may not win the title in June. There’s still three months’ worth of battles to negotiate before the reckoning comes. Nonetheless, they answered any and all queries on their readiness to take the measure of the National Basketball Association’s acknowledged finest. They’ve long proven ready and willing. Over the weekend, they also showed they’re able. And when the hardware will truly be on the line, they have James — and, of course, Davis — to lean on while committing to be all of the above, and more.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.