The Los Angeles Lakers are making a charge. They’ve won 13 of their last 18 games and are now just two games behind the Utah Jazz for the eighth spot in the Western Conference.
But are the Lakers a much better team right now than they were six weeks ago? Not really.
A look at the numbers shows only minimal improvement from the Lakers’ first 42 games.
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
So, the Lakers have been been a hair worse offensively over the last 18 games, and less than a point per 100 possessions better defensively. That’s not much of a difference. The real difference has been how they’ve performed in close games.When you’re below .500 with a positive point differential, as the Lakers were after 42 games, you’re typically winning big and losing small. And through Jan. 23, the Lakers were 3-7 in games decided by five points or less. Since then, they’re 5-0.
The final margin of a game is kind of arbitrary, though. And if you look at games that were within five points in the last five minutes, the difference between the Lakers’ first 42 games and their last 18 is even bigger.
*Clutch OffRtg & DefRtg = for possessions in the last five minutes with a point differential of five or lessThough the Lakers’ defense hasn’t been that much better overall, it has been down the stretch of close games. And offensively, the shots are going in. In fact, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison, Metta World Peace and Earl Clark have combined to shoot 31-for-49 (63 percent) from the field in clutch time since Jan. 25.
You can look at this in two ways. If the glass is half full, you can say that the Lakers were much better than their record when they were 17-25. If it’s half empty, you can say that this 13-5 stretch isn’t as impressive as it may seem. Furthermore, real quality wins have been few and far between. They’re just 3-16 against the eight teams with a winning percentage better than .600.
The last win over one of those teams was a 105-96 victory over the Thunder, who the Lakers visit on TNT at 9:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday. They’re 0-9 on the road against teams above .600 thus far.
Still, overall, the Lakers have been a better team on both ends of the floor than the Jazz, the team they’re trying to catch.
When it comes to future schedule, the Lakers play slightly easier opponents, but the Jazz have one fewer road game (11 vs. 12) and one fewer back-to-back (3 vs. 4).