The Los Angeles Lakers are headed back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-13 campaign.
They clinched their spot in the postseason with a 113-103 win over the Milwaukee Bucks at Staples Center on Friday night.
While the playoffs seemed like a bare-minimum goal for a roster featuring two of the top players in the league in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, many assumed as much about the Purple and Gold last season. After all, James was coming off eight straight trips to the NBA Finals from his time on the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers and seemed like a lock for additional postseason success.
Instead, the Lakers stumbled to a 37-45 record and missed the playoffs entirely as rumors about their failed pursuit of Davis via trade appeared to ruin their chemistry.
They were finally able to trade for Davis over the offseason, sending Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and draft picks to the New Orleans Pelicans and setting the stage for a wildly successful regular season.
The James and Davis tandem worked instantly, as the former's brilliant passing ability helped him take advantage of the spacing created by the additional defensive attention he draws and consistently set up the big man on lobs and kick-outs.
The All-Star pairing has thrived, and veteran pieces such as Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Avery Bradley, Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee have all found supporting roles with youngsters Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso providing sparks.
While the Bucks have the best record in the league and were the first to clinch a spot in the playoffs, the Lakers have been atop the Western Conference standings for much of the season and are 5.5 games ahead of the second-seeded Los Angeles Clippers heading into the closing stretch.
With the No. 1 seed on the horizon and the combination of James and Davis leading the way, it is championship-or-bust. Merely making the playoffs is not the goal, especially since LeBron is 35 years old with limited seasons remaining as a prime producer.
Navigating the daunting Western Conference will not be easy with a number of other talented duos in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, and Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, among others, but Los Angeles has proved to be up to the challenge throughout the regular season.
The Lakers snapped the playoff drought. Now attention will turn toward lifting the Larry O'Brien Trophy for the first time since the 2009-10 season.