LOS ANGELES--When the Los Angeles Lakers first took the court at Staples Center this season, any reasonable expectations for the team had to be fairly muted.
It was, after all, a young basketball team playing in a conference with super teams in Golden State, Houston and Oklahoma City. There was a stalwart Spurs team in San Antonio, an arriving Timberwolves team in Minnesota and talented rosters across the hall at Staples Center and in Denver and New Orleans.
Wins and losses weren't going to be the way to judge the Lakers. Progress was going to be the metric of choice.
But with Thursday's trade that cleared the way for a run at a pair of star free agents, it's becoming clearer that this team's timetable might need to be accelerated.
Thursday night, the Lakers defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 106-81, giving them their 12th win in their last 16 games.
"For us as players, it wasn't about the big picture," rookie Josh Hart said. "We want to win right now. And these last 16 games, we've started to figure it out."
It's the second time they've beaten the Thunder -- who were without Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony because of injuries -- in a five-day span. But it wasn't as if the Lakers were at full strength, either.
Their two newest players, Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye, won't join the team until Friday in Dallas. Their point guard, Lonzo Ball, is still in street clothes on game night. And, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr., two of the longest-tenured players on the team, were sent to Cleveland, a sobering reminder of the business part of professional basketball.
But regardless, the Lakers played Thursday as if they were at full strength. They scrambled on the defensive end, stifling every player on the court with the exception of Paul George, whom they slowed down after a hot start.
And on offense, they played with a combination of speed and unselfishness that coach Luke Walton is trying to instill at the team's foundation.