Right at the trade deadline, Isaiah Thomas was traded to a team that was below .500 by double digits. It was a young team nobody expected to be good just yet. A young team for which slow gains, even without a playoff berth, would be enough.

Actually that's happened twice.

It happened in February of 2015, when the Phoenix Suns traded Thomas to the Boston Celtics.

Then the same scenario repeated in February of 2018, when the Cleveland Cavaliers traded Thomas to the Lakers.

"When I got traded to Boston, it was a young team thinking rebuild, and play the young guys and things like that," Thomas said. "But we came together and were like, shoot, if we play hard and leave it all out on the floor anything can happen. I think that's what we are doing now."

Thomas isn't the only one thinking about the playoffs. At 28-34, the Lakers are 6½ games from the final playoff spot with only 20 games left. Despite that, he and the point guard he mentors are both unafraid to make that their goal.

"I mean, that's why I play," Lonzo Ball said. "I play to win. So hopefully we can get in."

The Lakers are now in a fifth season that began with, at best, faint playoff hopes. Since Lakers coach Luke Walton arrived, in fact, the word "playoffs" has been a bit taboo. He made it clear that he didn't want the goal to be about wins and losses. Rebuilding may include losing, but it still can include progress.

As this season progressed, Walton changed his philosophy slightly. In late December, amid their nine-game losing streak, Walton made it clear that he now expected wins from his team. The players set that standard for themselves, he said.

But there is a step between expecting wins and outwardly reaching for the playoffs.