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.
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Pete Carroll empathizes with Belichick, Pats in Deflategate

Max Scherzer thanks Tigers with full page newspaper ad

Ray Lewis: Patriots should have asterisk for cheating

Report: Cavs players believed team lacked depth

Richard Sherman calls out Kraft, Goodell over their friendship

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Brandon Jennings to miss 6-9 months with Achilles injury

Report: Josh Gordon tests positive for alcohol

Report: Yankees reject A-Rod's request for apology meeting

Jim Harbaugh has landed three recruits in 24 hours

Report: NFL tried to catch Patriots in the act

John Harbaugh: Bill Belichick is best coach of this century

49 Stops to Super Bowl XLIX

WATCH: Opposing Packers celebrate Pro Bowl TD

WATCH: Sherman, Peterson hug it out at Pro Bowl

WATCH: Chris Berman is not happy at the Pro Bowl

PHOTO: Brock Lesnar's tramp stamp says ‘Kill ‘em All’

WATCH: Hassan Whiteside blocks five shots in 7 minutes

Duke unveils 'K' hats after Coach K's 1,000th victory

Irina Shayk dumped Ronaldo over cheating rumors?

Mike Napoli almost retired because of sleep apnea

WATCH: 'Saturday Night Live' takes on Deflategate

Should Tom Izzo be worried about his Spartans?

Five potentially fatal flaws for Seahawks in the Super Bowl

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.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

49 Stops to Super Bowl XLIX

Chris Berman isn't happy at the Pro Bowl

Brandon Jennings out 6-9 months

Josh Gordon tests positive for alcohol

Report: A-Rod's apology meeting request gets rejected

Harbaugh rapidly landing recruits

WATCH: 'SNL' spoofs Deflategate

NFL tried to catch Pats in act?

Bill Nye: Belichick didn't make sense

Is it time for Tom Izzo to worry?

Jennings suffers horrific injury

Seahawks GM: I love Lynch's act

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.