At the beginning of the season, nobody would have guessed that the Lakers would be fighting for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference.
Well, unfortunately, that’s the reality and things are looking grim for the Lakers following a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday and a win by the Utah Jazz over the Golden State Warriors.
Currently, the Jazz are in the eighth playoff slot and, as many of you know, hold the tiebreaker over the Lakers should the two teams finish with identical records.
For edification, the Lakers are currently a half game behind the Utah Jazz with a record of 40-37; the Jazz have a record of 41-37.
Basically, what this means is that the Lakers have absolutely no wiggle room to lose a game over their remaining five; barring a complete collapse by the Jazz.
Essentially, the Lakers have to finish with one less loss than the Jazz (and one more win).
So, let’s take a quick look at each team’s schedule:
- 4/9 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
- 4/12 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
- 4/15 @ Minnesota Timberwolves
- 4/17 @Memphis Grizzlies
Los Angeles Lakers
- 4/9 vs. New Orleans Hornets
- 4/10 @ Portland Trail Blazers
- 4/12 vs. Golden State Warriors
- 4/14 vs. San Antonio Spurs
- 4/17 vs. Houston Rockets
Now, with regards to Utah, there are a couple positives for the Lakers. One being the Oklahoma City Thunder and two being the Memphis Grizzlies in Memphis.
The Jazz defeated the Timberwolves in both of their previous two meetings, so the Lakers can’t bank on them losing there.
Against the Thunder, they lost both away games, but did manage to win at home. The Jazz have a .744 record at home, which is also not good for the Lakers. However, OKC is fighting the San Antonio Spurs for the top spot in the West, so they probably won’t go down easily, either.
Finally, against the Grizzlies, the Jazz are 1-2 this season. However, like Oklahoma City, the Grizzlies are also still jostling for playoff position and will probably play an inspired game on their home court.
From the looks of the schedule and their history at home, the likely loss–if any–would come against the Grizzlies.
On to the Lakers now.
Assuming Utah loses at least one game, that still leaves the Lakers with the sole option of winning out.
The good news is that the Lakers have won all three previous meetings with the New Orleans Hornets this season, but they’ll have to maintain a focus and not overlook their opponent or look ahead to the second game of the back-to-back against the Trail Blazers, either.
Now, do you want the good news or the bad news regarding the back-to-back? I’ll give you the bad news first.
The bad news is that the Lakers are usually faced with a tough game when in Portland, and they haven’t swept a back-to-back all season.
The good news is that the Lakers are 2-1 against Portland this year, and Portland has lost eight games in a row; so they aren’t exactly peaking right now.
Against the Warriors, the Lakers are 2-1, but lost the most recent one at Golden State. However, that could simply mean the Lakers “owe them one,” and have proven that they’re capable of defeating the Warriors.
The toughest game on paper for the Lakers will clearly be against the San Antonio Spurs. The Lakers haven’t defeated the Spurs yet this season, but at least the games have been close (with an average deficit of 2.5 points in the two previous meetings).
However, Gregg Popovich often sits his key players towards the end of the regular season, but he may make an exception to that this season if his team is trying to fend off the Thunder for the number one spot.
Then we’ve got Houston, whom the Lakers have gone 1-2 with this season–winning the previous home game back in November.
Houston is also very much battling for playoff position, so that could be another dangerous matchup as well.
The Lakers have a trying five-game schedule ahead of them and simply cannot afford to lose any games. Essentially, it’s gut-check time for the Lakers and they have to simply win each game and don’t have the luxury of “moral victories” any longer.
Most of the teams the Lakers are facing also have something to fight for, so it definitely won’t be a cakewalk; thing are going to get tough, physical, and intense.
Fortunately, four of the five games are on the Lakers’ home court, but the team will need the support of the home crowd.
Although the Hollywood crowd at Staples has notoriously been challenged when it comes to the collective decibel level, when faced with meaningful games, the crowd has sometimes shown its ability to help will the team to victory.
Now, more than ever, the Lakers will need that extra boost from the crowd to help win some much needed ballgames.
With a little luck from Utah and some inspired play, the Lakers just might make the playoffs this season.
Moreover, if they can will their way to five straight victories in the process, perhaps it will prove the character of a team that is still capable of making some noise in the post-season.
In case you missed it, be sure to check out Dwight’s hustle in our Play of the Week!
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