Will the Lakers Make the Playoffs?
With less than a month remaining in the 2012-2013 NBA regular season, the Los Angeles Lakers continue to cling to a narrow league in the Western Conference playoff race. After muddling out to a 17-25 start to the season, the Lakers have gone 19-9 to propel themselves back into the postseason mix.
Originally featuring hopes of leapfrogging a few more teams to get closer to the middle of the pack in the West playoff race, a severe ankle sprain sustained by Kobe Bryant has derailed things a bit as of late. Two consecutive losses to conference cellar dwellers in the Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards (who sport a combined 48-90 record this season) have tempered those expectations but getting a healthy Pau Gasol back into the lineup is going to be key. Integrating Gasol back into the rotation and balancing his minutes are sure to be hot topics but the 7-footers insertion back into the lineup is bound to make an impact if LA can gain some cohesion.
Looking at the schedule, the Lakers won’t have much time to accomplish that feat with four straight road games on tap for the upcoming week – an area that has been a sore spot for LA all season. The Lakers’ 13-22 road record is the worst among current Western Conference playoff teams and second-worst overall among all current postseason squads this year.
Working in LA’s favor is that the team will catch a break with a lengthy home stand after the four-game roadie with six of the last eight games of the season being played at Staples Center. Even though the Lakers will be playing at home, where they’ve amassed a 23-12 record this year, LA will be facing some stiff competition over the last few weeks of the season.
Seven of the team’s final 12 games are against teams that would make the postseason if the season ended today. In April, LA will face just one team (the New Orleans Hornets) that isn’t at least in the playoff discussion out West so the Lakers are going to have to be playing their best basketball to close out the year and make it into the playoffs.
That being said, the Lakers remain in the driver’s seat to make the postseason with a game-and-a-half lead over the next closest team in the Western Conference playoff hunt. Fully healthy heading down the stretch, the Lakers hold fate in their own hands as to whether or not this team can avoid going down as one of the biggest disappointments in NBA history.
The Other Contenders for Eighth Out West:
Utah Jazz – 34-35 (2-1 vs Lakers this season. Next meeting: NA)
Games remaining: 13
Vs Current Playoff Teams: 5
A Jazz team that bullied their way into the postseason just a year ago using a five game winning streak to close out the season has floundered over the last few weeks in 2013. After starting the month of March in the playoffs with a 32-27 record, Utah has stumbled with eight losses over their last 10 contests to fall to ninth out West.
The good news for Jazz fans is that this team faces the easiest schedule to close things out, facing just five teams that would make the postseason if the season ended today. Just one game back of the Lakers in the loss column and having already won the season series with LA, the Jazz find themselves in the best position to take the eighth spot if they can steady the ship.
Featuring two key players that are going to hit the open market in free agency this summer, the smart bet is that Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap play a key role for this team to make it to the postseason.
Portland Trail Blazers – 33-36 (1-2 vs Lakers this season. Next meeting: April 10 in Portland)
Games remaining: 13
Vs Current Playoff Teams: 10
Rattling cages as a sleeper team all season long, the young Blazers have positioned themselves as a squad within striking distance of a postseason berth late in the 2012-13 season. With All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge playing his best basketball this month, Portland has won four of its last six games to prove they intend on hanging around in the playoff race.
The bad news for Blazers’ hopefuls is that this team has the toughest road to a playoff berth among the four contenders. A home game April 10 against the Lakers is going to be crucial as a win would the season series with LA heading into the final week – a week in which the Blazers have four games against teams currently in the top-6 in the West.
Dallas Mavericks – 33-36 (1-2 vs Lakers this season. Next meeting: April 2 in Los Angeles)
Games remaining: 13
Vs Current Playoff Teams: 7
Seemingly stuck in neutral all season long dealing with injuries and an influx of new, one-year deal players, the Mavericks have played well enough lately to include themselves in the playoff discussion out West. After hitting rock bottom Jan. 9 at 10 games under .500 on the season, Dallas has rebounded with a 20-13 record and have won eight of 12 contests in the month of March.
Not surprisingly, the Mavs resurgence has coincided with Dirk Nowitzki beginning to play like his pre-knee surgery self again. After missing time to start the year and slowly working his way back into the lineup, Nowitzki is nearing 100 percent for the first time all season and the Mavericks’ recent play reflects that.
It’s going to continue to be an uphill climb but the Mavs find themselves with a decent shot of cracking the top-8 in the West. An April 2 meeting with the Lakers in LA will go a long way in deciding whether or not the Mavericks’ streak of 12 consecutive playoff appearances will continue.
Does LA have what it takes to make the postseason out West? Can any of these teams overthrow the Lakers? Let your voice be heard in the comments section below!