Is Los Angeles Lakers’ Poor Record vs Top Teams a Cause for Concern?

ESPN’s SportsCenter—masters that they are of the obscure, created-to-prove-the-point-of-the-day statistic—announced today that the Los Angeles Lakers are 7-8 this season against “the top eight” teams in the NBA.

It took a little calculating to deduce that they meant “the other top seven” teams, but you get the picture. While sporting a hefty 36-7 record against the rest of the NBA, the defending champs are limping along one game under .500 against the league’s best.

The network raised the issue, apparently, to question whether the Lakers’ current record is a bit of a mirage.

It’s a fair point, especially when examining L.A.’s chief rival in the West, the Denver Nuggets.

In fact, the numbers suggest that the Nuggets may be the team to watch—not only in the West, but in the entire league.

To get a reasonable snapshot, let’s look at how the Lakers and Nuggets have fared against the other four top teams in the West, and the top four teams in the East.

In that context, the Lakers are an even .500 across the board; 6-6 against their top four Western rivals (Denver, Utah, Dallas, and Phoenix), and 3-3 against the East’s best (Cleveland, Orlando, Boston, and Atlanta).

The Nuggets, meanwhile, are a robust 12-3 against the league’s elite. They’re 7-2 against the West’s top four teams, and 5-1 against the Eastern powers.

Even more significant, the Nuggets are a perfect 4-0 against L.A. and Cleveland; 5-0 if you add in Orlando. That’s not just coincidence, or luck. Denver has consistently risen to the occasion this season against the best the NBA has to offer.

That will be important come playoff time.

There are no easy draws in the West, where 11 of 15 teams currently stand at .500 or better.

But the Nuggets have played their best basketball against their strongest opposition, and that will be a huge confidence booster when the second ...

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