Los Angeles Lakers: Analyzing Their Playoffs Hopes


Kobe Bryant is averaging 35 points per game over his last four outings. Photo Credit: (Flickr.com)

The Los Angeles Lakers are knocking on the door in the Western Conference. That sentiment has been tossed around many, many times this year, but the clock isn’t working in the Lakers’ favor now that we’re in March, the final full month of the season.

Perhaps the pressure will fuel the Lakers. A 116-94 thrashing of the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday, Feb. 28, pulled them within two games of the Houston Rockets for the eighth seed. The Rockets aren’t helping their chances, losing two straight, and the Utah Jazz, who currently occupy the seventh seed, are on a losing streak of their own, dropping their past three contests.

If this pattern continues, the Lakers will remain on the brink of a playoff spot, which is ultimately what they want. At this point, they aren’t eyeing a top-five seed. At best, they want to sneak into the playoffs and work from there.

Still, the Lakers have a lot of a work ahead of them.

According to ESPN, John Hollinger’s formula gives them a 45 percent chance of making the playoffs. The system projects the Jazz to finish with the eighth seed with a total of 42 wins and the Lakers to finish with 41 wins.

At this point, however, the Lakers can’t control their own destiny. They will need some indirect help from teams that play the Jazz and Rockets in the next month and even that might not be enough for them to overcome the gap.

But here’s some good news: In Marc Stein’s latest power rankings, he notes that the Jazz have the fifth-hardest remaining schedule, while the Lakers have the fourth-easiest remaining schedule.

Let’s look of the Jazz’ remaining schedule.

The main observation is that they won’t get the luxury of finishing out their season at home, where they are an impressive 21-8. Instead, they’ll play nine of their 16 March games on the road, where they’re 10-19. This seemingly unbalanced part of their schedule is due to the fact that they’ve played 15 of their last 20 games at home. Everything balances out eventually, but the timing couldn’t be any worse for the Jazz.

So, from the shape of things, the Lakers have a decent chance to accomplish what seemed like the impossible a few weeks back. Perhaps some overly optimistic fans expect them to beat out the Jazz considering the factors that I revealed above. It’s certainly feasible.

Of course, there are a few additional scenarios to mull over. For one, the Jazz do control their destiny. If they win they will make the playoffs. It’s as simple as that. Plus, it’s their lead to loss, though some teams crumble in situations of comfort. Only time will tell if the Jazz are one of those teams.

Now, let’s take a step back.

The Jazz, as aforementioned, currently occupy the seventh seed, not eighth. It would be a bit presumptuous to assume that they will finish with the final seed, but surely not an outlandish prediction considering their difficult stretch ahead.

As for the Rockets, well, they seem to have the easiest remaining schedule of the bubble teams, as only 10 of their remaining 23 games will be on the road. They will have some sizable tests sprinkled in, but by the same token, they will also have their fair share of “easy” games to look forward to. So, it’s easy to see why many pundits jump to conclusions of the final alignment of the standings.

In short, the Lakers don’t have much margin for error. While they might have the fifth-easiest schedule in the league over the final month-plus of the season, they will have to live up to those expectations.

This season, all the Lakers have done is limbo under expectations. That trend will need to change for them to avoid an entirely disappointing season.