With a 100-86 win over the Sacramento Kings on Sunday night, the Los Angeles Lakers now find themselves sitting at .500 with a record of 7-7. That's the exact same record the Lakers had when they awoke on the morning of Nov. 25, 2012.
The big difference between this year's team and the tumultuous 2012-13 squad? Just about everything.
Last year's Lakers were a star-studded bunch that entered the season with title aspirations. Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard were primed to lead the league's most compelling assortment of talent on the road to prosperity. We know how that worked out.
This year's team is different.
The 2013-14 Lakers play with energy. They hustle. They look like they genuinely care about each other.
Watching Kings glare at each other after lack of help defense reminds me of the 2012-13 Lakers. LAL 55, SAC 48 at halftime.— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) November 25, 2013
On a night when the Lakers held the Kings to 86 points and had four players score in double figures, it became abundantly clear that this year's team has come a long way to reform its image and style of play in a short amount of time.
While Gasol, the team's only healthy star at the moment, poured in 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, it was a collection of unsung players who had largely been cast off who made the biggest difference against the Kings.
"We have good guys. They share. They don’t care (about their stats). They have the right values," D'Antoni said after the win, according to Mike Trudell of Lakers.com.
One of those "good guys" is Xavier Henry, who led all scorers with 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting and guided the league's premier scoring second unit, one that scored 40 points in the win.
Point guard Steve Blake added nine points and 12 assists and Jordan Hill double-doubled yet again (10 points and 13 rebounds). Jodie Meeks scored 14 points, while Jordan Farmar and Nick Young combined to score 16 points and dish out five assists off the pine.
D’Antoni on the team’s chemistry: “As good as it gets. I don’t know if you can put it on a scale, everyone is pulling for each other.”— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) November 25, 2013
These aren't last year's Lakers.
Last year's edition of the Purple and Gold owned the league's third-lowest scoring bench, according to HoopsStats. They also ranked 20th in defensive efficiency, surrendering 106.6 points per 100 possessions, according to Basketball-Reference.
Through 14 games this season, the Lakers have allowed 101.3 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com's stats database, and have now held opponents below 100 points in four straight games.
Arguably the biggest difference between the two teams, though, has been the way they carried themselves. Last year's group, as alluded to by D'Antoni, could be described as selfish.
To this point in the season, selfless play has been the Lakers' golden ticket.
With no superstar to carry the load, the Lakers have gotten everything done by committee, and that includes coming to each others' aid.
Here's a sign of team unity: Lakers were all ready to stand up to DeMarcus Cousins— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) November 25, 2013
When Jordan Farmar and Shawne Williams were involved in a confrontation with DeMarcus Cousins in the fourth quarter on Sunday night, the Lakers banded together and rushed to Farmar's side as Cousins grew increasingly frustrated and went on a miniature verbal tirade.
It's those moments that have come to define the Lakers.
So while the Lakers may not be destined for postseason success, at a bare minimum they're playing an inspired brand of basketball. That's really all their fans could have asked for after watching last year's train wreck.
And get this: If the Lakers win their fourth straight game on Tuesday, a matchup with the Washington Wizards, they'll boast a better record than last year's group did through 15 games.