Originally written on NESN.com  |  Last updated 11/20/14
One day, it is Dwight Howard‘s shoulder. The next day, it is Kobe Bryant‘s excessive shooting, or his excessive passing. The day after that, it is the Lakers’ shaky transition defense. Game after game, the great mystery that is this Lakers team receives a new explanation. When they win, it is evidence that they should be better. When they lose, it is proof that they are as bad as they have looked all along. But the Lakers are really a whole lot easier to figure out than many people assume. They have not improved. From game to game they might, such as when Bryant went off Sunday with 38 points against the Mavericks, but then they come back the very next night and give up 33 fastbreak points to the Nuggets. Overall, despite winning four of their last six games and 11 of their last 16, the Lakers are just as mediocre as they have been all along. Their recent “improvement” is merely a boring mathematical trend. The Lakers entered Wednesday with a 28-30 record, three games behind the Rockets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. With two straight winnable home games coming up, the Lakers conceivably could reach .500 by the beginning of next week. And it will not mean jack squat. Based on the expected win-loss record compiled by Basketball Reference, the Lakers’ points scored and points against should give them a 31-27 record, a three-game turnaround from their actual record. Coaches love to say, “You are what your record says you are,” but for much of the year, the Lakers haven’t been. Now, more with the season more than two-thirds gone, they are gradually working their way up to that expected record. This is known as “regression to the mean,” and it is not nearly as encouraging as Lakers fans might like to believe. “Regression to the mean” refers to the statistical phenomenon in which extreme initial variables — like a basketball team with four All-Stars losing four of its first five games — eventually give way to normalizing variables, like winning 11 out of 16. It is dull, which is why this article does not dedicate more than a paragraph to explaining it, but it is the most concise way to explain the Lakers’ recent “improvement.” (If you really want to read a comprehensive analysis of the numbers, check out Tom Ziller‘s work at SB Nation.) The alternative is the Warriors, who have played well above their expected win-loss record all season and are now regressing — some might say “tumbling” — back toward the mean. In other words, the Lakers are not getting better. They are merely moving gradually up from awfulness to mediocrity. As if that were not discouraging enough, not even that “expected” win-loss record of 31-27 would put the Lakers into the playoffs. They would still be tied with Houston’s actual record, and trail in the season series 1-2. So while everyone agonizes over Howard’s shoulder and a shaky defense, the Lakers are turning out to be precisely what they should have been all along. They are an utterly average team on the fringe of the playoff picture, and still a monumental disappointment. Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Lovie Smith: 2-9 Bucs are still in playoff contention

UCLA QB Brett Hundley likely to enter NFL draft

Bills will return to Ralph Wilson Stadium for Sunday's game

Miller to Oregon transfer rumor originates on Reddit

Valencia FC ditches bat logo amidst DC Comics challenge

Paul Pierce: Celtics' Big Three was like 'Holy Trinity'

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Cubs reportedly offer Jon Lester more than $135 million

Colin Kaepernick: Jim Harbaugh will be back in 2015

Jeremy Maclin not happy with Riley Cooper’s contract remark

Broncos reportedly waive kicker McManus, sign Connor Barth

Report: Browns not committed to Brian Hoyer long-term

Pablo Sandoval, Red Sox officially agree to contract

WATCH: Paul Pierce signs autograph during game

Jeremy Hill asks great question about alma mater LSU

NBA rookie rankings after 1st month of 2014-15 season

Statistic about Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler very revealing

Aaron Rodgers blasts those who accused him of trolling Vikings

The century's 10 most one-sided college football rivalries

WATCH: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of NBA's first month

Sherman mocks NFL media policies in press conference

Why Packers' offense continues to evolve despite success

'Fire Idzik' billboard updated with suggestion for Jets owner

Watt buys pizza, shows gratitude to Houston firefighters, cops

College football's post-Week 13 Playoff projection

NBA News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.

Braxton Miller headed to Oregon?

The century's 10 most one-sided college football rivalries

Pierce: C's Big Three like 'Holy Trinity'

Maclin unhappy with Cooper comments

Post-Week 13 CFB Playoff projection

What has Masai Ujiri built in Toronto?

How L.A. should replace Hanley

Lester, Red Sox still talking contract

Why each NFL team should be thankful

Could Kentucky beat the 76ers?

Greatest college football rivalries

LeBron on losing streak: 'I stink'

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.