On Valentine's Day, the Los Angeles Lakers welcome to Sacramento Kings for a lovefest at Staples Center. Tuesday's game is only the Lakers' second game at home over its previous 10 games, as the schedule thus far has been brutal for the purple and gold, and the roster thinned out at various points during the first two-thirds of the season.
However, the Lakers appear to be healthy entering the mid-season break.
"It's lovely. It really is," Walton responded when NBCLA.com asked the Lakers' coach what it felt like to have 15 healthy bodies at Monday's practice. Walton spoke about how the team could properly practice sets and work as full units, rather than switching to four-on-four drills. He concluded, "It's definitely ideal to have 15 guys out there."
When the Lakers have healthy bodies, they tend to win games. LA started out the season 10-10 before a flurry of injuries led to the team losing 15 of its next 17 games. Back to full health, the Lakers have won two of their last three games and have already eclipsed their win total from the 2015-16 season.
Incredibly, the Lakers had not finished with a better regular season record than the previous season going back to 2008-09 season. LA won the title that season and the next. In 2010-11, the Lakers matched their regular season record from the previous year but failed to complete the three-peat.
From there, LA continued to steadily decline from the top of the mountain to the bottom of the ocean. The Lakers lost in the second round of the 2011 and 2012 NBA playoffs. The 2012-13 Lakers barely finished with a winning record, though Kobe Bryant's torn Achilles, Steve Nash's broken body and Dwight Howard's escape from LA sent the Lakers into a tailspin that featured the team losing 55, 61 and 65 games over the following three season.
Those three years of pain also led to the arrivals of Julius Randle, D'Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram, along with Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and Ivica Zubac.
With the 2016-17 Lakers already collecting two more wins than the 2015-16 team, LA will improve on its previous regular season record for the first time in a long while. Yes, that's tangible, measurable progress, and considering the Lakers have not experienced anything close to progress for at least half a dozen years, that deserves acknowledgment.
In addition, the Lakers have wrapped up the most daunting and road-heavy stretches of their 2016-17 season, so more wins could be on the way before the 2016-17 season concludes. The post All-Star break features 24 games, only eight of which will be played away from Staples Center.
If the Lakers manage to win only one in every three games for the remainder of the season, they will be back to the levels of the Mike D'Antoni 2014-15 squad. While that may not immediately sound like an impressive accomplishment, jumping from a 65-loss season to a 55-loss season while giving 19, 20, 21 and 22-year-olds heavy minutes for the duration of the season suggests the Lakers have finally turned the tide.
Beyond the current season, LA could and should continue to improve going forward. As the 2016-17 season enters its final stretch, the reality that the Lakers are no longer at the bottom of the ocean is becoming more and more evident with each win.
A season ago, the Lakers hit rock bottom, though one could have made that argument at the conclusion of each of the previous two seasons, too.
Walton and the Lakers are no longer sinking. By the end of the 2016-17 season, the purple and gold hope to get back onto dry land, and the coming years should provide the challenges of climbing back up to the mountain with the hopes to one day standing atop the summit.