Laker’s Improbable Rise to Success


0.3. A number cemented in the game of basketball due to its resemblance toward probability. Following the 1990 NBA season and Trent Tucker’s 0.1-second buzzer-beater, the NBA implemented the “Trent Tucker Rule” that enforced any shot taken with less than 0.3 seconds remaining would be impossible.

 Following a rough night and another loss in Crypto Arena, coach Darvin Ham would write on his whiteboard in front of all his players in the locker room. “0.3%” The Lakers front office and analysts predicted that the team would only have a 0.3 percent chance that they could make the playoffs. However, in the NBA, the number 0.3 still meant it was possible. 

Almost the entire 2022-2023 NBA season for the Los Angeles Lakers was plagued with injuries and setbacks. Early in the season, star players like LeBron James would go down with a foot injury, and Anthony Davis injuring his knee. Following these, the role player would be placed on injured reserve, forcing bench players to attempt to step up.

Sports analysts and fans protested the Lakers keeping Russel Westbrook due to his poor performance in shooting and playmaking. The once MVP was forced to sit on the bench for much of the season due to his underperformance and lack of ability to show up. Sports analyst Stephen A Smith stated, “He knows they want him gone.”

To add salt to the burn, key player LeBron James would post on Twitter, “I can/ will NOT miss the postseason again for my career,” implying that this season was already in the trash can. Many people would criticize LeBron for his tweet, calling him a “quiter” and “bad teammate” as he sat home on injury reserved. 

As the trade deadline and season slowly came to an end, Lakers fans were preparing for a long offseason away from the playoffs. Nevertheless, the Laker’s front office made a huge deal in a three-team trade and a much-needed trade that sent Russel Westbrook packing and bringing in key players in D’Angelo Russel and lockdown defender Jarred Vanderbilt. 

Following the trade deadline, the Lakers would make a last-minute stretch that was desperately needed. Going 17-9 in their last 26 games allowed the struggling team to barely make the play-in tournament as a seventh seed giving the Lakers team and fans a sigh of relief. The stage would be set for the Lakers to face off against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the play-in for a chance to be locked in for the playoffs. The game would take an overtime thriller, resulting in the Lakers making their official playoff birth with a 108-102 victory. 

Laker head coach Darvin Ham would say in his post-game interview, “Once you get to the end of things, to have everyone healthy, to be playing in the type of rhythm we’re playing in, to defend at the level that we’re defending at, going into the most important time of the year, you can’t ask for a better situation.”

The last time a seventh seed beat a number two seed in the NBA was the 1997-98 season. The Lakers’ reward for making the playoffs as a seven seed would be to face the number two seed and rival Memphis Grizzlys. 

Prior to the series, star player Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies was featured in an interview where he was asked whom he had to “run through” or beat to reach the NBA Finals. He would reply with “Celtics.” In response, she would ask, “Nobody in the West?” He would end by saying, “Nah, I’m fine in the West.” His remark would raise eyebrows among all the competitors and rivals of an already loaded Western Conference. 

With tensions at an all-time high, the Lakers were able to run away with the first game. However, Memphis was able to tie the series at home despite missing Ja Morant. Dillion Brooks of the Memphis Grizzlies would continue to stir the pot due to his altercation with Lebron James in game two. Along with this, following his victory, he said, “I don’t care. He’s old. I was waiting for that… I poke bears. I don’t respect no one until they come and give me 40 [points].” 

Following his comments, LeBron and the Lakers would respond by winning the next two games taking a 3-1 lead in the series. With over 4,000 playoff games in NBA history, only 13 teams have been able to return from a 3-1 deficit. 

But on Wednesday night, the Grizzlies made a considerable push to defy this statistic in a 17-point victory to bring the series closer. The stage is set for LeBron to close out the series on Friday night in a game six in Los Angeles. But if not, the team will be sent back on a flight to Memphis, which holds the best home game record in the entire NBA. 

The rollercoaster of a ride for the Lakers team and fans has been nothing less than thrilling for the 2022-32 season. Filled with many setbacks allowed the team to bounce back in a Cinderella story to play one of their biggest rivals in the first round. Will LeBron take down the number two seed as a seven seed, or will Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies pull off a nearly impossible comeback? 

0.3. A number that draws the line between buzzer-beater shots, early trips back home, or maybe even NBA Champions.