With all the ups and downs that the Lakers have faced this year, the team remains the third seed in the Western Conference.
Despite being on track to secure the Pacific Division championship, questions still remain about the legitimacy of the team and whether they have what it takes to make a deep run in the postseason.
There are three teams that the Lakers face before the postseason that will challenge them both physically and mentally, serving as tough tests for L.A. to prove that they can reach the NBA Finals for the fourth time in five years.
The Lakers face the Thunder twice before the end of the regular season—tonight and on Sunday, April 22nd. The best news for the Lakers is that both of these games are at Staples Center in Los Angeles, where the Lakers are 20-4 this season.
The Thunder have been the top dog in the West for the entire season. Victories against the Thunder will boost the confidence for the Lakers, which is a current need to build momentum going into the playoffs.
These matchups will also showcase what Ramon Sessions can do against a team with an elite point guard like Russell Westbrook.
The Thunder are favored to win the championship this year and, if the Lakers can take advantage of using these games to study the Thunder's weaknesses and patterns, the Lakers could give them a real challenge in the Western Conference Finals.
The Lakers face the Spurs three times next month, with two out of the three games in San Antonio.
The Spurs have a knack for sliding under the radar in the West despite consistently having one of the best records in the league. Tony Parker has reemerged as one of the best point guards in the league, averaging 19.6 points and 8 assists per game.
Spurs' coach Gregg Popovich continues to prove how effective his system is regardless of who is on the roster, how old the team is and the occurrence of player injuries.
Beating the current second seed in the West would challenge the defensive skills that the Lakers have the ability to perform with every game.
The Lakers have been "Los Angeles' team" for decades, but now the Clippers are trying to challenge this sentiment. This game is more about bragging rights in L.A. more than anything, as their matchup on April 4 will determine who wins the regular season series.
Currently, the Lakers have a two game lead over the Clippers for the lead in the Pacific Division. A contest against rivals always brings out the best of both teams, and the Lakers will need to showcase intensity, aggressiveness and passion to be victorious over the Clippers.
All of these characteristics will be needed to succeed in the playoffs and win their 17th title.