Photo Credit: LandRover164, Flickr.com
If you haven’t noticed, the Los Angeles Lakers have been really, really good lately. They had marched back to .500 before their loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday, March 5, and are a mere 2.5 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Based on how hot they’ve been lately, it feels inevitable that they will crack the postseason, despite many predicting doom for them as they struggled through the first half of the season. If the Lakers do make the playoffs, this means someone currently in the top eight will not and the mostly likely team to fall out of the playoffs is almost certainly the Utah Jazz.
On Monday, March 4, the Jazz fell to the eighth spot in the West after losing an overtime heartbreaker to the Milwaukee Bucks. This allowed the Houston Rockets to move into seventh, just a half game ahead of the Jazz, while the Golden State Warriors are only a game ahead of them. These teams are really close right now and with the Lakers heating up, one of them will have to drop out. Unfortunately for the Jazz, the odds are stacked against them in this category, as both the Rockets and Warriors will have exceedingly easy schedules the rest of the way.
The Rockets earned their scars early in the season, when they faced one of the tougher schedules in the league. Now, all that’s left is a set of fairly weak teams the rest of the way. For one thing, the Rockets get to play the lowly Phoenix Suns four times in the final 21 games of the season. That could end up being four pretty easy wins. They’ll also being seeing cellar dwellers such as the Orlando Magic and Cleveland Cavaliers, along with two more against the Sacramento Kings. The hard part of Houston’s schedule is over; now they get to feast on a cupcake schedule and in all likelihood, qualify for the postseason.
Meanwhile, the Warriors will benefit heavily from playing 15 of their final 21 games at home, including their next six. The Warriors have been in a huge funk. After outplaying their record all season, things have finally caught up with them and they are in moderate danger of slipping out of the playoffs. The abundance of home games will likely be enough to push them into the postseason, though.
The poor Jazz, on the other hand, have a very tough schedule the rest of the way. They’ll be playing the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City two times apiece, along with difficult games against the New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs and Denver Nuggets. Basically, the Jazz will spend the rest of the year taking on the best teams in the league on a nightly basis. They’ll need to seriously overachieve down the stretch if they want to avoid being the team who falls out in the West, and they likely won’t have the strength to do it.
They lack a true star like James Harden on the Rockets or Stephen Curry on the Warriors. Additionally, while getting Mo Williams back will help, he probably won’t be at full strength when he returns and it might take some time to re-integrate him into the lineup.
With the Lakers heating up, someone will almost certainly be sliding out of the top eight to make room for them, and due to their tough schedule, the Jazz are the favorites to be that team. They have some talent, and they certainly won’t be going down with out a fight, but chances are, when April rolls around, they’ll be the odd team out in the Western Conference.