Entering the January 25th game at the Staples Center, the Los Angeles Lakers were holding the best record in the National Basketball Association.
This is certainly not new news; the Lakers have been flirting with the title throughout the regular season. Sure, Cleveland and Boston have lain claim to the title as well, however it seems all the more relevant that the team with the best record comes from a stacked Western Conference.
And today may have proved that the Lakers are the team to lean on as we make our way through the long regular season and into the playoffs.
Today's matchup may have been even more revealing than the Christmas day game versus the dreaded little green men from that town that lays claim to some pretty awesome beer, and at times some pretty pissed off fans.
It may mean even more than the game a week ago against a town with a terrible baseball team and a basketball team that is led by one of the top players in the association.
Today's game was about superiority in the toughest conference in all of basketball.
As Scott Van Pelt said a few weeks back on his radio show with Mike Terico, "It would be hard for me to not see the road to a Western Conference championship not go through San Antonio."
Yes, the Lakers-Spurs rivalry, all the stress of Lakers-Celtics without any of the hype.
Sure, the city of Los Angeles has seen some amazing things happen during the past decade (remember how Fisher always seems to be the Spurs’ killer; .4 seconds is plenty of time for the veteran).
However, we have also seen four Western Conference championships and NBA titles go to the southernmost Texas town with a major NBA basketball team. They are the kings of the lone star state (sorry Cuban, it's true).
This is why this game means so much. The hype may not be what it was on Christmas, and it may not show us who is better, Kobe or LeBron. But, it does show us just how good the Lakers are. The defense was stifling, the offense blistering, and the physicality as present as ever.
Yep, we saw a NBA championship-caliber team.
It certainly helps to have a bench as loaded as the Lakers. The box score makes the game seem much closer than it was.
The Lakers bench was led by Jordan Farmar in his "welcome back" game. Oh, and let's not forget a pair of 7-footers who came in and showed the league that two big men can control the boards, score points, and allow our MVP to spend a significant amount of time on the bench.
For any of the naysayers out there, the fans in Boston, Cleveland, or any of the other major NBA cities, take this game to heart. This is how this Lakers team will perform in the playoffs.
At full strength and with a starting lineup that features two 7-footers, a 6-10 small forward with one of the best three-point percentages, a seasoned veteran who is not worried about getting the ball in the clutch, and the reigning MVP of the NBA who just might be the greatest player to ever play the game, this team is unstoppable.
Yes, we do witness moments of defunct defense. Times when the team plays down to their opponents’ level. There are times when you look up at the score board and ask yourself, "How can they be behind?"
But every time this thought runs though the mind, a 17-2 run comes out of nowhere. And even better, sometimes it's orchestrated by the second unit, the guys who aren't on the Wheaties box or at the All-Star game. No other NBA team can lay claim to something like that.
So when it comes time to place those final bets on who's going to emerge triumphant for the ‘08-09 campaign, I'd put it all on depth and height, because that's what wins championships.
And not to worry: in the playoffs, the defense will show up.