Were the (somewhat healthy) Lakers Elite?

Los Angeles Lakers v Oklahoma City ThunderAfter two rounds of playoffs in the Western Conference, the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs remain, and it’s not just recently that the two potential NBA finalists have played well: Over the last 40 games, the Grizzlies went 28-12, and the Spurs 27-13.

That 28-12 mark may sound familiar in Los Angeles, because that’s the record the Lakers put up as well. They won at a .700 clip despite not being fully healthy, with Pau Gasol missing 20 games and Steve Nash eight.

Only Denver finished better, rolling off a 33-7 mark, while Oklahoma City matched San Antonio’s record to round out the top five.

The Thunder endured a devastating injury when Russell Westbrook (torn meniscus in his knee) went down early in Round 1, OKC ultimately falling 4-1 to Memphis in Round 2. Denver lost Danilo Gallinari (torn ACL) and to Golden State in Round 1. L.A. was swept by the Spurs without the services of Kobe Bryant (torn Achilles), not to mention their next best guards (Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks) for the bulk of the series.

As such, the “what if” game is alive. OKC may have a stronger argument, given they played elite basketball all season, while the Lakers had to exert maximum effort after falling eight games below .500 in January just to make the playoffs.

Nonetheless, you don’t go 28-12 over 40 games in the NBA without a combination of talent and on-court chemistry. It’s the latter that the Lakers lacked early due to new players, a coaching/system change and a plethora of injuries.

With that said, at least one guy believes 28-12 wasn’t a fluke.

“When you go from a year like this … it does something for the group,” said Bryant. “It builds character. To allow that to dissipate and do that again with another group, it’s a headache.

“I want (Pau Gasol) here. He gives us the best chance to win titles. You bring Dwight (Howard) back, then we’re off and running. You saw how well they played together (at the end of the season). That puzzle finally got solved.”

We’ll have to wait and see what the roster looks like for next season, with Howard being the first domino that needs to drop. In the meantime, here’s a look at how each Western team fared in the final 40 games:

1. NUGGETS (33-7) – Home: 23-0; Away: 10-7

2. LAKERS (28-12) – Home: 17-2; Away: 11-10

2. GRIZZLIES (28-12) – Home: 15-3; Away: 13-9

3. THUNDER (27-13) – Home: 15-4; Away: 12-9

3. SPURS (27-13) – Home: 17-4; Away: 10-9

4. CLIPPERS (24-16) – Home: 13-5; Away: 11-11

5. MAVERICKS (23-17) – Home: 13-9; Away: 10-8

6. WARRIORS (21-19) – Home: 14-7; Away: 7-12

7. JAZZ (20-20) – Home: 16-7; Away: 4-13

8. WOLVES (14-26) – Home: 9-13; Away: 5-13

9. HORNETS (13-27) – Home: 9-11; Away: 4-13

10. KINGS (12-28) – Home: 8-11; Away: 4-17

10. BLAZERS (12-28) – Home: 8-11; Away: 4-17

11. SUNS (11-29) – Home: 7-13; Away: 4-16