2020 Los Angeles Lakers NBA championship Journey

Authors: Zini Zhu, Baoying Yuan, Alark Joshi
University of San Francisco

*This interactive story is best experienced with Google Chrome on a screen with a resolution of 2560 x 1440

"The Giant"

The Los Angeles Lakers have the most glorious history among all the teams in the National Basketball Association. One only needs to look at all the retired jerseys hanging in the Staples Center: Elgin Baylor, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Jerry West, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe Bryant. Additionally, they have won 16 Championships. With such a rich history, the goal for the Lakers is always the same - Win a Championship!

Time of Misery

The Lakers’ trajectory was completely changed in 2013, when their superstar Kobe Bryant went down with a torn Achilles. They quickly fell from a championship contender to a lottery team.

The torn Achilles was the start of the nightmare. Shortly after coming back from the injury, Kobe was out again due to knee and shoulder injuries. In 2016, the legendary player would announce his retirement from the NBA.
Lakers tried to bring some fresh talent to the team through their draft picks. They used their top picks to select Julius Randle ('15), D’Angelo Russell ('16), Brandon Ingram ('17) and Lonzo Ball ('18).
However, things didn’t get better. Lakers were not able to get into the playoffs for 6 years.

The New Team

After struggling for 7 years, the team finally started moving in the right direction. In 2018, they signed LeBron James, followed by Anthony Davis in 2019. The Lakers traded their young players to assemble a new team around the two superstars.

Most of the new players in the team were players with a proven track records, but with something to prove. There was still doubt and dispute. ESPN ranked Lakers only 4th in their list of possible contenders, with a significant majority of experts believing that LeBron would get 0 titles in the next 4 years with the Lakers.

#The Washed King

The scrutiny on Lebron James was further intensified after his first year with Lakers when he missed the playoffs for the 1st time since 2005. In 2020, he was raring to go and to get his respect back.

"Do it my way"

Anthony Davis gave everything he could to the New Orleans Pelicans, but the team could not win a championship. The All-Star had made his decision to move and was now part of the New Team.

The Lakers Team

Frank Vogel

Vogel led the Indiana Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals twice, but they were were defeated both times by Miami Heat led by James. Now with the former MVP on his team, Vogel got another chance to win a championship.

Rajon Rondo

Rondo used to play for the Lakers' biggest rival: the Celtics. He was known for his exceptional passing ability and quick thinking on the court. He was ready to help the Lakers team win a ring.

Dwight Howard

Howard’s last experience with Lakers was messy. This time, to show the Lakers fans that he had matured, the big guy offered to sign a non-guaranteed contract with the team.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

It was KCP’s 3rd year with Lakers, yet he still hadn’t won over the trust and respect of the fans. As more players joined the team, this shooting guard wanted to showcase his special talents.

Kyle Kuzma

In the trade for AD, Kuzma was the only young player that stayed on the Lakers roster. He wanted to validate the team's trust in him by putting up solid performances for his team.

Alex Caruso

Caruso was deeply loved by the Lakers fans because of his energy and toughness on court. He started as an undrafted rookie and finally got a role in the team rotation due to his tireless effort.

Regular Season

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Lakers only played 71 games in this regular season. With a 52-19 record, Lakers ranked 1st in the Western Conference. The team ranked 4th in points allowed and 2nd in rebounds allowed. They ranked 2nd for defensive rebounds and set the most blocks per game. Their offensive ranking was not as good, though. Lakers’ 3-pt shooting didn’t get significantly better this year even with KCP and Danny Green. They ranked 21th for the field goal percentage for three points and 29th for free throw percentage. These liabilities could be a big issue in the playoffs.

Dwight Howard Makes an Impact

LAL 120 : 101 CHA,   2019/10/27

After losing DeMarcus Cousins to an ACL injury before him ever suiting up for the purple and gold, the Lakers signed Howard with a one-year, non-guaranteed, ‘prove it’ deal that the big man himself asked for. Due to the last unhappy experience Howard had with the team, Lakers fans were still skeptical as to what kind of impact he would have for the team. Those prejudices were quickly squashed after only the third game of the season against the Charlotte Hornets, as the former All-Star played a perfect game, going 8/8 from the field, scoring 16 pts with 19 rebounds, in only 22 minutes of play.

AD Made History with 40/20 against The Grizzlies

LAL 120 : 91 MEM,   2019/10/29

Los Angeles Lakers big man Anthony Davis has something in common with a short list of all-time franchise greats. The Brow went off for a huge 40 points and 20 rebounds game against the Memphis Grizzlies, in just 30 minutes. In the game, Davis went 26-27 from the foul line, breaking the franchise record for free throws made in a single game, which was previously held by Dwight Howard.

Danny Green’s Game-tying Three against DAL

LAL 120 : 91 DAL,   2019/11/01

It didn’t take long for the 2-times champion guard to prove himself. In only the fifth game of the season, the Lakers were in a close game against Luka Donic and the Dallas Mavericks, with the team down three with 6.4 seconds left on the clock. As James drove to the basket, he lasered a pass to a semi-open Danny Green in the corner, who calmly pump-faked a scrambling Seth Curry and nailed the game-tying 3-pointer to send the game into overtime.

AD Drops 50 on The Timberwolves

LAL 142 : 125 MIN,   2019/12/08

Davis made his presence felt by going off for a season-high 50 points and a stat line of 50/7/6, with four blocks and one steal. The Brow was unstoppable from every spot on the floor and showed us the full range of his skills as a scorer. He led the Los Angeles Lakers to a huge victory against the Timberwolves 142-125 and elevated the team’s record to 21-3. This is the game where we were able to see the full potential of a LeBron James/Anthony Davis pairing as these two were fully in sync.

Lakers Hit 17-1 Team Records in December

LAL 101 : 96 ATL,   2019/12/15

After defeating the Atlanta Hawks, the Lakers won the 17 of the last 18 games, with a 10-game and 7-game winning streak. The New Team was firing on all cylinders with the two superstars playing well together and the role players doing their job well.

LeBron Passes Kobe Bryant on The All-time Scoring List

LAL 91 : 108 PHI,   2020/01/25

On January 25th, by making a simple drive to the basket, LeBron James passed Kobe Bryant for the third on the all-time scoring list. This is a moment that will, unfortunately, be forever intertwined with the tragic passing of one of basketball’s most legendary players, but that still shouldn’t take away from the importance of this monumental moment in sports.

Back-to-back Wins against Bucks and Clippers

LAL 113 : 103 MIL,   2020/03/06

LAL 112 : 103 LAC,   2020/03/08

These two games were projected to be one of the toughest parts of the Lakers’ schedule. Both the teams were pegged to be favorites to win the championship.

In the game against the Milwaukee Bucks led by the reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Lakers were in control right from the beginning of the game, and a late-game spin-move into a thunderous jam by LeBron James was the resounding exclamation to mark the end of the game. LeBron ended up with an impressive 37/8/8 and AD contributed with 30 points and 9 rebounds.

After losses against the Clippers on opening night and Christmas day, the team was eager to prove their status as a true championship contender. LeBron James made a 3-point play with 40 seconds to go that ended up being a decisive play to win the game.

Lakers played 71 games in the regular season.
The team won 52 games. The winning rate for the Lakers was 73.2%.
Their longest winning streak was 10 games.
The Lakers finished the regular season ranked 1st in the Western Conference.

On Jan 26th 2020, Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna died in a helicopter crash.
It was a great loss to the Lakers community, the NBA, and the whole world,
but the Mamba Mentality will live on for generations to come.

NBA Playoffs

The regular season was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. When the season resumed, doubts rose on whether the Lakers could play at the same high level during the playoffs, considering the team's high average age.

Avery Bradley, who was the main defensive player in the team, decided not to play. In addition, the whole series would be carried out in “the Bubble”.

Apart from the competitions, the team would also have to overcome other kinds of obstacles, such as being separated from their families for over three months.

The team set up a board to count down the games towards the championship.


Project design and development:
Zini Zhu, Baoying Yuan
Alark Joshi
Story Contents
The text contents were summarized from a series of posts and articles on Lakers’ 2019-20 season.
“The Giant” section, Lakers history timeline captions:
“Regular Season” section, Lakers highlighted moments:
“Playoffs” section, game highlights:
MIKE HISERMAN , DAN LOUMENA, "How the Lakers won the franchise’s 17th NBA title" , Los Angeles Times
Data Preparation
The Lakers championship records and regular season records are fetched from NBA stats official website via an open source api called nba-api. The api provides endpoints to fetch all NBA teams’ game stats and team rankings. The scraping scripts are written in Python with Jupyter Notebook. The fetched results are saved in multiple csv files. Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Anthony Davis’s career statistics, Lakers drafts and records information from 2011 to 2018 and Lakers 2020 playoffs record data are directly downloaded from Basketball Statistics and History.
Data Visualization
All the visualizations were implemented using D3.js. The scrolling effects were implemented using Waypoints and Scrollama. Other applied external libraries and tools included: d3-annotation and d3-textwrap
Photos and Images Credits
Title page, background image:
Creator: Hector Vivas | Credit: LatinContent via Getty Images
“The Giant” section:
George Mikan: New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer - Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c20839
Wilt Chamberlain: http://wiltthestilt.synthasite.com/photo-gallery.php
the “Showtime”: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
the “OK” duo: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Kobe's 5th NBA title: https://wallpapercave.com/kobe-bryant-championship-wallpaper
“The New Team” section:
Lebron James and Anthony Davis: Lakers official website
Frank Vogel: Zhizhao Wu | Getty Images
Rajon Rondo: Frank Franklin II
Dwight Howard: Chris Elise | Credit: NBAE via Getty Images
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: Sue Ogroki | Associated Press
Kyle Kuzma: Sean M. Haffey | Getty Images
Alex Caruso: Marcio Jose Sanchez | Associated Press
“The Regular Season” section:
Andrew D. Bernstein | NBAE via Getty Images
Jesse D. Garrabrant | NBAE via Getty Images
Adam Pantozzi | NBAE via Getty Images
Scott Cunningham | NBAE via Getty Images
Nathaniel S. Butler | NBAE via Getty Images
Kobe Bryant Memory Background Image:
David McNew | Getty Images
"Playoffs" section, Lakers count down board:
NBA champion trophy logo
Video Credit
“Playoffs” section video highlights: