The Los Angeles Lakers are looking down at the rest of the NBA from the top of the standings for the first time in a decade. The Lakers finished November by delivering a knockout punch to the lowly Washington Wizards on Friday night at Staples Center, giving the franchise their 10th straight win and improving their record to 17-2 on the season, the best mark in the league.
LeBron James is playing like an MVP frontrunner on the brink of his 35th birthday. Anthony Davis has been everything the Lakers hoped for when they traded several young prospects to get him over the summer. Less heralded offseason additions like Danny Green and Dwight Howard are excelling in narrow roles. New head coach Frank Vogel has this team playing around league-best levels on both sides of the ball.
The Lakers had championship aspirations from the onset of the season, but they weren’t even considered the best team in their own city, let alone the best in the entire NBA. Instead, this team has the look of a legitimate powerhouse through the first 23 percent of the season. This is context behind the Lakers’ winning streak.
The Lakers haven’t been this good since Kobe Bryant’s glory days
The last time the Lakers started a season 17-2 was in 2008, when a starting lineup of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Derek Fisher, and Vladimir Radmanović got off to the best start in the NBA. This the Lakers’ first double-digit winning streak since the 2009-2010 season, when they won 11 straight games.
The Lakers won the NBA championship in both seasons. They have not won a championship since.
The Lakers are playing at a historic pace
At 17-2, the Lakers have won 89.5 percent of their games. It puts them on pace to be the best team in NBA history.
A 73-9 record, which would tie the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors for the best record in NBA history, would be a 89 percent winning percentage. A 74-8 record would set a new all-time mark and equate to a 90.2 winning percentage. No one is going to be expect the Lakers to continue winning at this pace, though very few people expected them to be this good in the first place.
The Lakers have played one of the NBA’s easiest schedules
The Lakers built their winning streak by exclusively beating up on teams that are currently under .500. The best team Los Angeles defeated during this streak is the Phoenix Suns, who are 8-10. If the season ended today, the Suns would be the Lakers’ first round opponent in the playoffs.
The Lakers only have three wins all season over teams that are over .500 — the Jazz, the Mavericks (in overtime), and the Heat. Both of the team’s losses (to the Clippers and Raptors) came to teams over .500. ESPN currently has the Lakers playing the league’s sixth easiest schedule up to this point.
The Lakers are balanced on offense and defense
The Lakers currently have the NBA’s fifth-best offense by scoring 111.4 points per 100 possessions. The Lakers currently have the NBA’s fifth-best defense by allowing 102.8 points per 100 possessions.
No other team in the NBA is ranked in the top five of both offensive and defensive efficiency. The Lakers’ net rating of +8.6 is the second-best in the NBA behind the Milwaukee Bucks (+8.8).
LeBron James and Anthony Davis are playing like superstars
James is averaging 25.7 points per game (No. 11 in the NBA) while building a big lead as the NBA’s assist leader. James is averaging 11 assists per game so far, which is easily the highest number of his career. James has never averaged more than 9.1 assists per game, which happened during his final year with the Cleveland Cavaliers. James is also playing the fewest minutes of his career so far at 34.8 per game.
Davis is leading the NBA in blocks at 2.8 per game while scoring 26.1 points per game. At 9.2 rebounds per game, Davis is grabbing the fewest boards of his career since his rookie year.
James and Davis have been among the most impactful players in the league according to PIPM. James is No. 4 and Davis is No. 6 in the all-in-one impact stat.
The next month will test how good the Lakers really are
Nine of the Lakers’ 14 games in December come against teams that are currently above .500. They also have nine road games in the month.
Right now, the Lakers look like the best team in basketball. If that remains the case after Dec., the Lakers’ championship hype is going to get even louder.