Battle of the Pacific: Warriors Keep Rolling, Lakers Struggle

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

No one would have believed me if I had said before the season that the Golden State Warriors would have a better record than the Los Angeles Lakers going into the All-Star break. Yet, the reality as of the day the NBA announced the reserves for the All-Star team is that the Warriors are in fifth place in the increasingly competitive Western Conference, while the Lakers are not even bound for the playoffs.

While it’s no surprise that the Warriors are thriving with their new and improved up-tempo offense, it is mind-boggling how the Lakers, with a perennial All-Star team, could play so poorly. The difference in performance between these two teams make their Pacific rivalry lopsided and laughable, recalling memories of the struggling Warriors team that used to fall season after season to the 16-time champion Lakers.  

The Lakers made two blockbuster moves this offseason — acquiring two-time MVP Steve Nash from the Phoenix Suns and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic, while signing a number of supportive bench players.

But since the start of the season, the Lakers have changed coaches twice, and had to compete with alternating injuries to their star and bench players. The number of times that the team has actually played as a healthy unit can be counted on one hand.

Despite the brilliant play of Kobe Bryant this season, the Lakers are clearly struggling — they've lost nine of the last 10 games, more than half of which were played at Staples Center, a place that opponents unanimously used to fear.

In contrast, the Warriors beat the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday and league-leading Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday last week and have had a very successful season thus far. Currently, they sit just two games behind the Memphis Grizzlies.

Historically, it's common for teams to make drastic changes after the All-Star break (February 15-17). Past years have proven that team records frequently fluctuate after the All-Star weekend, and that performance post-February is a much better indicator of playoff success.

But as of Sunday, it appeared that the Warriors have a strong chance of obtaining home court advantage for the playoffs during the first round and a high probability of advancing into the second round, while the Lakers are not even within striking distance of making the cut (in the top seven teams from the Western Conference) for the playoffs.

Does this signify the end of an era, and the end of the Lakers team that has virtually ruled the entire NBA since 1999? In the past 14 years, the Lakers, Spurs and Celtics have exclusively dominated the league, and have taken turns taking home the Larry O'Brien trophy.

This topic has been brought up time and again this season, and we will see the answer to this disheartening question in the upcoming months.

There is no question that many blockbuster teams, and the Lakers especially, will make roster changes in the upcoming months to improve their competitiveness. Let's hope that the Lakers will turn it around and that the Warriors will continue to soar after the February NBA All-Star weekend in Houston, Texas.