LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Lakers may be a top contender, but the rest of the NBA could be watching.
The Lakers are not just a contender in the East — they are a contender that could be the best in the league in the next couple of seasons.
L.A. has become a favorite to win the Pacific Division, the league’s second-most valuable division behind the West.
Its record last season was third in the West but tied with the Miami Heat for the second-worst mark in the NBA behind the Utah Jazz.
“They’ve got a great group of guys, and they’ve got to get better,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said of the Lakers.
“I’m not sure they’re done yet.
I’m not saying they’re finished yet, but I’m confident in what we’ve got going on.”
The Lakers have had to play a lot better than expected to finish third in a weak Western Conference and finish with the league-worst record.
They played some of the worst basketball of their season, falling behind by 13 and 15 points in the second half of the regular season.
Their biggest challenge will be to get their defense up to snuff, which is a major focus for Scott.
They’re averaging 111.4 points and 11.8 rebounds per game.
They have had some problems at the defensive end, ranking last in the conference in defensive rating (104.4) and allowing 108.7 points per game, the third-worst total in the Western Conference.
But Scott said the Lakers will not rest on their laurels.
“We’ve got so many guys that are so talented, so skilled that they’ve had to adjust to this new challenge,” he said.
“So we’ve had a chance to be better than we were last year.
The Lakers have been a consistent top-five team for a long time. “
It’s going to be fun.”
The Lakers have been a consistent top-five team for a long time.
They won a franchise-record 10 straight titles from 1997-2000, but they never had the luxury of being able to build their franchise around the best player on the planet.
They were able to do that through the years, when stars Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal were among the league leaders in scoring, but there are questions about how well the Lakers’ star players can handle the transition.
But Bryant said the team is ready to go.
“Our goal is to be in the top 10 in our conference and then to go to the conference finals, which we’re all going to want,” Bryant said.
The team has the talent, he added.
“Everyone is trying to be the next Kobe.”
The Warriors have been one of the most dominant teams in the Eastern Conference for years, but their recent struggles have hurt their ability to win.
They lost their second-round series to the Cavs, their first round matchup with the Pacers, and then lost to the Knicks in overtime in the first round of the playoffs.
The Cavs have had three straight losses and are playing their fifth straight home game against a team that won’t be in town for the Lakers-Heat series.
The Warriors were 5-1 at home last season.
They are 4-4 on the road.
“They’re the greatest team that ever played,” Scott said.
“[The Cavs] can’t get over the hump and they’re going through their most challenging stretch of their schedule.
They’ve got three games against a bunch of good teams in a row.
They should be a playoff team this year.”
The Suns were an unexpected playoff team in the middle of the East, and it was difficult to imagine them not having the best team in basketball in the 2015-16 season.
But it has been a long road.
The Suns finished 8-11 and had a disappointing start, winning just five of their first 16 games.
They had a tough time defending Kevin Durant, the NBA’s MVP, and the Heat won their last nine games.
“This is a team with a lot of young talent,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said.
It’s a team trying to get to the Finals.
They’ll have to make adjustments.
“But the challenge for us will be just to play with more energy and be a little bit more aggressive, because we’re a young team and we have a lot to learn,” Hornacecke said.
The Lakers are still a little nervous about their team.
They play a team in Los Angeles, a city that was considered one of last year’s most promising teams, with a new owner.
The Celtics, who have been the NBA champion twice, are looking to repeat as champions.
The Thunder are looking for their third straight NBA title, and Oklahoma City beat the Lakers on Wednesday night.
“If you were looking at a team like that, you’d say, ‘They’re going nowhere,’ ” said Oklahoma City