8 Teams Benefiting from the Los Angeles Lakers' Struggles
There's little left to be optimistic about in Los Angeles Lakers world.
If you're looking for a half-full glass in Los Angeles that isn't already labeled Clippers, it might be the good cheers of other teams around the league benefiting from the Lakers' continuing demise.
After beginning January with six consecutive losses, the Lakers just won their first game of 2013 on Sunday with a win against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It's not over for the Lakers, but it's getting closer.
Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol are currently injured with likely short, but indefinite, timelines for return. Jordan Hill is now out for the season. Kobe Bryant is having one of his greatest seasons and it's still not enough.
While the reality is that they are still just four games out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference, the greater truth is that this Lakers team doesn't have enough juice.
Not enough athleticism.
Not enough defense.
Not enough cohesiveness.
Early issues looked like they may be premature concerns through a warming-up process. Mike D'Antoni hasn't solved anything that Mike Brown could not.
Los Angeles would need to win somewhere around 30 games from this point just to make the postseason.
The Lakers' woes are evident at this point, but there are plenty of other teams in the Western Conference that are benefiting.
5-8. Remainder of the Pack
There are three bottom-half teams chasing a postseason spot that all may be more athletic and capable than the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves all have received a boost to their playoff chances thanks to the down Lakers start.
The Lakers (16-21) are ahead of only Dallas, Sacramento, Phoenix and New Orleans in the West.
The Denver Nuggets, who have been rolling since their schedule swung back home, are primed to grab a four to six seed in the Western Conference. They are talented and are tough to battle with inside. (They might also be proof of how a team can come together after a slow start too.)
But as for Portland, Houston, Utah and Minnesota, there is at least one added opportunity at a postseason berth. The Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets have made surges of late and have been helped by the fact that Los Angeles isn't taking up a top spot.
The Lakers trail all teams by just a handful of games, and will still compete for those seventh and eighth seeds.
Each of these teams benefit if the Lakers continue to fade.
4. Golden State Warriors
The Warriors are getting some time to bask in the shine of the Golden State.
With the decline of the Lakers, the Warriors are now, along with the Los Angeles Clippers, one of the top teams in the Pacific Division.
While the Lakers did beat the Warriors in both matchups this season, the Warriors are taking advantage of the opportunity to be a top-five team out West.
The Warriors will likely tumble at some point this season, maybe during this current stretch of their schedule against playoff-quality teams, but they have plenty of room.
The Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies appear locks to make the postseason. If the Lakers fail to make a push, that affords the Warriors four other spots to fill come April.
The Lakers' fall might mean the Warriors' first playoff appearance in six seasons and just their second appearance in 18 years.
3. Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies are now the best team with the best size.
That's an important distinction when it's time to head into the playoffs.
The Lakers' combination of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, complemented by the perimeter strength of Metta World Peace, would have made for a formidable matchup against the size of Memphis' Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Rudy Gay.
But without the Lakers, there isn't a contender with the inside talent of Memphis.
The size of the Memphis frontcourt creates one of the greatest advantages in the league. Defensively, the Grizzlies allow the second-least points in the NBA.
While the Grizzlies could still see talented size in the Denver Nuggets and potentially the Utah Jazz, the fall of the Lakers allows them the opportunity to host at least the first round of the playoffs as a top-four seed.
If an early matchup with the Nuggets or Jazz is destined, it will come on Memphis' turf—unless Denver makes the huge run it is capable of.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder, with the best record in the NBA, remain the favorites to win the Western Conference.
The Lakers were the potential brick wall.
The additions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash were supposed to create a new favorite out West. And if there was a team fading, it might be the Thunder after losing their third option, James Harden.
But Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and their fellow Thunder pieces have only gotten better. Kevin Martin has filled in just fine as a scorer off the bench.
And as for the Lakers, well, they obviously haven't been good all season.
The Lakers appeared loaded on paper after this past offseason, at least better than they did after losing the conference semifinals 4-1 against the Thunder last season. But with the Lakers likely out of contention, it's the Thunder's show.
Of course, they now have to go through that other Los Angeles team.
1. Los Angeles Clippers
There's no bigger winner in the demise of the Lakers than the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Clippers were the roommate that wasn't allowed to come out of his room when company was over.
They were talked about with whispers and unfavorable gestures. The Clippers were the ultimate stepchild to a city that favors its cherished son.
But times have changed. The Lakers have had zero to do with the Clippers' success, but everything to do with the spotlight they've enjoyed. It's enough that the Clippers have one of the best records in the NBA, but imagine how good they look in the L.A. scene standing next to the ugly guy.
As Lamar Odom told Bill Dwyre of the Los Angeles Times: "We are the best show in town right now."
The Clippers lead the Pacific Division by 4.5 games over the second-place Golden State Warriors and are 12.0 games ahead of the third-place Lakers.
With Chris Paul anchored in with the Clippers, this Los Angeles team could be better for a long time.
The Clippers could continue to add even more talent in years to come as the new darlings of one of the league's best markets. That makes them winners this season and beyond.
Jimmy Spencer can be followed on Twitter @jimmypspencer for more NBA news and analysis.