When Was the Last Time the Lakers Won a Non-Bubble Playoff Series?
Given how the last few seasons have gone for the Los Angeles Lakers, it’s sometimes easy to forget the franchise is less than three years removed from winning its record-tying 17th NBA title.
But that championship was undoubtedly unlike any other in league history as it was won in the Orlando bubble after COVID-19 changed the complexity of the 2019-20 campaign. Many have said LeBron James & Co. would never have won that title had those NBA Playoffs been contested under normal conditions, but the fact remains that it did happen.
Of course, much has changed with the Lakers since then. The head coach of that title-winning team, Frank Vogel, was fired following a 33-49 season in 2021-22 and was replaced by Darvin Ham. And outside of James and Anthony Davis, the LA roster is entirely different.
It looked as if the Lakers would again miss the playoffs this season as both LeBron and AD missed significant time with injuries. However, a surge after the All-Star break led them to a 43-39 record, earning them the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference. The question now becomes whether or not James and Davis can lead the Lakers to a postseason series win outside the bubble, which they’ve not yet done.
As mentioned, LA went 33-49 in 2021-22. And following the shortened 2020-21 campaign, they lost to the Phoenix Suns in the first round.
So when exactly was the last time the Lakers won a non-bubble playoff series?
When was the last time the Lakers won a playoff series outside the Orlando bubble?
Prior to winning four series in the bubble en route to the 2020 NBA title, the last time the Lakers won a postseason series was all the way back in 2012.
At that time, LA wasn’t far removed from winning back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010. And while the roster was still strong with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol leading the way, Phil Jackson had retired ahead of the 2011-12 campaign and was replaced by Mike Brown.
The 2011-12 regular season, of course, was shortened to 66 games due to a lockout, and the Lakers earned the No. 3 seed in the West, winning the Pacific Division with a 41-25 record. Averaging 27.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 1.2 steals, Bryant finished fourth in the NBA MVP voting behind LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Chris Paul.
In the first round of the playoffs, LA squared off with the sixth-seeded Denver Nuggets, and Kobe & Co. got all they could handle before winning the series in seven games. And that was the last postseason series the Lakers won before the bubble. In the second round that year, they were dominated by the Oklahoma City Thunder, losing in five games.
The following year, without Kobe in the lineup, as he famously tore his Achilles near the end of the regular season, the seventh-seeded Lakers were swept in the first round by the San Antonio Spurs. They didn’t reach the postseason again until 2020.