Will We Ever Know If the Lakers Were Contenders?

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Every sports property in the universe has been asking the same question over and over this NBA season. Hell, they were asking it before the season. Are the Los Angeles Lakers contenders? Sometimes this is posed in regards to their ability to make it out of the Western Conference. Sometimes it's about their capacity to win it all. Occasionally "contender" is replaced with "a threat." One doesn't have to search very hard to find any answer. And that makes some sense because it's an 82-game regular season and people tend to react to new information.

When it comes to making content sausage, the Lakers are very appealing. LeBron James. The history. A big-ass market. Glitz. Glamour. All that. We're all just trying to get to the end of the day and keep up on our Chrysler Pacifica lease payments so there's no need to segment shame here. But it might be time to actually, just spitballing here, define what any of these words mean.

Like, what would the Lakers have to do in the playoffs for people to judge if they were contenders or a threat or a problem or a dark horse?

With 18 games left to play, Los Angeles is 5.5 games ahead of the nearest danger for the Western Conference's 10th and final spot in the postseason. They are only a game out of the 8th spot and three behind the Phoenix Suns for the last safety boat away from the dreaded play-in stuff. So it certainly seems like they'll be in the playoffs. They could also very easily create an easier path with winning basketball down the stretch. With a ton of talent and James and Anthony Davis healthy and engaged, they have a much higher ceiling than the usual 34-30 team.

So what will it take to contend and threaten? Asking around in the chat this morning reveals that making the Western Conference Finals would definitely qualify — even if they were swept. Some of the easier graders think that being in the Western Conference semifinals and competing for at least six games would do the trick. Then there's the question about who they lose to. If the Lakers end up playing the Nuggets in the first round of the real playoffs and push them to seven games then Denver marches on to another Finals, could one make the argument that they contended/threatened? Reasonable minds can disagree.

At the end of the day, the Lakers are longshots. Everyone who has been claiming they aren't contenders will be able to pat themselves on the back. But should they?