Los Angeles Lakers fans have been trying to rattle their heads thinking about how their squad can still win a title this year. They were right to slam the front office after the trade, which gave them Russell Westbrook. It is crystal clear that the man does not fit well with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
All roads lead to Memphis
Shaquille O'Neal, who boasts of a wealth of NBA experience, believes that his former team could still win it all if they play their cards well. By this, the Big Diesel means they should keep their eyes on the Western Conference standings.
“What a lot of people don’t understand is that the Lakers are right where they want to be. When you’re older, you’re saying to yourself, ‘Wait until the playoffs.’ So even though they’re not playing spectacularly, they’re still in the eight-spot. So if I was them, I don’t want to play Phoenix or Golden State in the first round. We’re going for Memphis,” O'Neal said, via Inside the NBA, as transcribed by Sportscasting.
The third-seeded Grizzlies would be dueling with the sixth-seeded Denver Nuggets if the playoffs were to begin now. The Lakers are way down in ninth place. They might have to fight for a spot via the unpredictable play-in tournament if they don't step up. Shaq touched upon why the Lakers should have the advantage if they face the Grizzlies.
“That’s how you think when you’re older,” Shaq said. “When you’re playing against a LeBron or Carmelo, the opponents are going to be playing way above their heads. If I’m playing against somebody, I’m not getting up for you the way you’re getting up for me. But then, when we know what’s at stake during the playoffs, they’re right where they want to be.”
Shaq speaks from experience
Shaq is definitely speaking from observation and experience. There are numerous instances where the lower-seeded team eclipsed the higher-seeded one. In recent memory, the greatest upset was when the 2007 Golden State Warriors squad (8th seed) led by Baron Davis booted out the Dallas Mavericks (1st seed) in six games. Note that Dirk Nowitzki had just won the coveted MVP, leading many to believe that it would be his year.
O'Neal himself has been on the losing side of an upset. In the 1995 NBA Playoffs, his Orlando Magic —who had locked the first seed in the East — made it to the NBA Finals with relative ease. Unexpectedly, they faced the Hakeem Olajuwon-led Houston Rockets, who placed sixth in the West. Unlike the Magic, the Rockets' road to the NBA Finals was tough. Their first and second-round series went the distance. And in the Western Conference Finals, they faced the best regular-season team: the San Antonio Spurs.
They ousted the Spurs in just six games, thanks to Olajuwon's poetic beating of David Robison. Rockets fans were pumped. But most analysts believed that the Rockets would eventually lose steam and fall to Shaq's Magic. But in a spectacular turn of events, the sixth-seeded Rockets swept the Magic and won the 1995 NBA Finals. This made them the lowest seed in league history lift the Larry O'Brien trophy.
History proves that the Lakers, amid their mediocre season, could still win it all. O'Neal believes that their Hall-of-Fame roster has the potential to turn things up a notch once the playoffs begin. But first, they must continue squeezing out as many victories as possible.