This article will look at four teams, including the Memphis Grizzles and Minnesota Timberwolves, the Los Angeles Lakers should fear having to play in the postseason this spring. The Lakers are no longer the dominant force that won back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010. Therefore, there is a smaller margin of error than there used to be when Phil Jackson was roaming the sidelines. Which also means there are more Western Conference foes the Lakers need to fear playing in a seven-game playoff series.
In the following slides, you will find four sleeper teams the Lakers should fear playing in the playoffs. By “sleeper team,” I mean teams who may not necessarily be at the very top of the Western Conference standings and/or teams who, if they were to defeat the Lakers in the postseason, the outcome would potentially be considered an upset.
All stats in this slideshow courtesy of hoopsstats.com.
Photo courtesy of lakers.topbuzz.com.
The Minnesota Timberwolves, who are currently a game-and-a-half out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference, received devastating news Saturday afternoon when it was announced rookie point guard Ricky Rubio would miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL.
The absence of Rubio will only make the Wolves’ journey to make the postseason for the first time since 2004 all the more arduous.
But if the Lakers and Wolves were to ever to play a playoff series with a healthy Rubio in uniform, fans would likely be treated to a hotly contested showdown. The Lakers have won all three matchups this season, including a narrow win Friday with Kevin Love sidelined with back spasms. But outside of the center and shooting guard positions, the Wolves have a stark advantage over the Lakers at every other position, including bench production and coaching. The Wolves average six, three and 14 more points per game at small forward, point guard and the bench, respectively.
Also, with all due respect to Kobe Bryant, the Wolves would arguably have the privilege of having the best overall player in the series in Kevin Love, who is having an MVP type season, averaging 25 points and 13 rebounds.
Would the Lakers ultimately win a seven-game series against the Wolves? Probably. But it would in no way be an easy go for Kobe and Co.
If fully healthy, the Wolves have the potential to be a pain in the side for more teams than just the Lakers. Let’s pretend Minnesota ends up claiming the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs (I know, without Rubio, it’s highly unlikely). This would set up a likely first-round matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder. It was only two years ago the Thunder were the young, wet-behind-the-ears eighth seed facing the then-defending champion Lakers in the first round of the playoffs.
Maybe the Wolves could end up playing the role of the Thunder this season if they take on Oklahoma City in the first round this spring.
At this point, it’s a stretch to consider the Los Angeles Clippers a sleeper playoff threat, given their rise to the top of the Western Conference standings this season. But there are other reasons for the Lakers to fear the Clips in the postseason, namely Southern California bragging rights.
If the Clips were to beat the Lakers in a hallway series, many California basketball enthusiasts would claim it was the beginning of the Clippers' reign as Los Angeles’ best basketball team. The Lakers will likely be busy enough this coming offseason trying to get their roster back to championship form. Answering questions about being L.A.’s “new second-best team” would only make the process all the more solemn.
I am really hoping these two teams end up playing one another in the playoffs this season. I honestly believe the series would be an epic seven-game blood bath. I can just see Meta World Peace and Reggie Evans going face-to-face right now.
The Lakers have been somewhat of a one-trick pony this season, with the majority of their scoring coming from only Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Of the 94 points a game the team averages, Bryant, Gasol and Bynum are responsible for 62 of them per game.
Given the rest of the team’s inability to put the ball in the hoop this season, there have been times when the Lakers might as well have been playing three-on-five.
The Nuggets are exactly the opposite. Without a clear-cut star, the Nuggets get contributions from a variety of players each night. A player who scores 30 one night could score 12 the next without the team suffering substantially. Here’s my case and point: The Lakers are currently ranked 26th in bench production (20.7) while the Nuggets rank second, producing 42 bench points per game.
Relying solely on three players in a seven-game series against such a deep teams is hazardous, especially when there is a chance three or four of the games would be played in the high altitudes of Denver. I can just see Kobe, Pau and Andrew all on the bench right now, looking winded after a huge run by George Karl’s squad.
The Los Angeles Lakers still have something no other team in the NBA does: two All-Star-caliber seven-footers. But if there’s one team who could potentially quell the Lakers’ advantage in the frontcourt, it’s the Memphis Grizzlies with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Randolph has missed the majority of the season with a knee injury, but Randolph has recently participated in contact practice for the first time since his injury, and the team hopes he will be ready in time for the postseason.
The Grizzlies, who are holding down the fifth seed in the Western Conference standings at the moment, have remained relevant this season in Randolph’s absence thanks in large part to the play of Gasol, who is currently averaging career highs in points, rebounds and blocks, in addition to being named to his first All-Star team this season.
Despite the possibility of Gasol and Randolph canceling out the Lakers’ advantage in the frontcourt, the Grizzlies’ roster is loaded with young, athletic perimeter players capable of creating offense (the Grizzles currently rank 11th in points in the paint and 10th in points out of the paint—pretty balanced attack). The Lakers do not only have any young, athletic players of their own to speak of, but they also have a tough time defending them, given their veteran, slow-footed roster.
Combine all this with the experience Memphis gained in last spring’s postseason, which included a first-round upset of San Antonio and pushing Oklahoma City to the brink in the conference semis, and no team in the conference will be looking forward to tangling with the Grizz come playoff time.