Remaining Must-Win Games for Los Angeles Lakers to Make Playoff Push
Following an abysmal start to the 2012-13 season, the Los Angeles Lakers appear poised and focused for a playoff run. Before they can make the postseason a reality, though, the Lakers need to target must-win games moving forward.
Make no mistake, the Lakers still believe they’re going to make the playoffs this year despite a poor start that put them in a deep hole. In fact, future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant went as far as to guarantee the Lakers making the postseason.
Via Jack McCallum of Sports Illustrated Bryant said, “We will make the playoffs.”
It’s impossible to ignore the confidence of a proven champion like Bryant. Even so, the Lakers are not simply going to go through the motions and make the playoffs. This team will have to earn its spot by competing on a nightly basis.
For that to happen, these scheduled games need to be accompanied by a "W."
New Orleans (x2), Sacramento (x2), Phoenix, Orlando and Washington
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If the Los Angeles Lakers are going to earn a playoff berth before season’s end, they simply have to take care of business against inferior opponents.
Throughout the remainder of the season, the Lakers play New Orleans and Sacramento two times each. They also meet with Phoenix, Orlando and Washington one time apiece. Considering that those five NBA cellar-dwellers have racked up 192 losses combined, the Lakers can’t afford to drop the ball in any of those contests.
Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni was recently quoted saying, “You’re not going to make the playoffs, I don’t think, with less than 45 wins,” according to an article by ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.
As it stands, the Lakers have 28 wins with 25 games remaining on the schedule. To hit the 45-win mark D’Antoni mentions, the Lakers need to go 17-8 for the remainder of the season.
There’s simply no chance the Lakers will make that happen if they don’t come up with wins against bad teams.
The Lakers could wind up making the playoffs with fewer than 45 total victories, but this team can't afford to aim low in a tough Western Conference.
March 5 at Oklahoma City
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It’s fair to say that the March 5 road matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder shouldn’t be seen as a “must-win” game. This contest will arguably be the toughest game remaining on the Lakers' schedule due to the strength of their opponent and the fact that it’s on the road. So on that basis, the Lakers may be able to afford losing this one.
With that said, beating the Thunder in their own building (like Miami did prior to the All-Star break) would provide the Lakers with a huge confidence boost. The Lakers have 21 games scheduled after the matchup with OKC, nine of which are against teams currently in the playoff picture. Beating a championship contender would prove that they can hold court with anyone.
The Lakers have a 1-2 record against the Thunder this year. Evening that mark to 2-2 would be much more beneficial psychologically than dropping to 1-3.
Again, this matchup may not be seen as a “must-win” by Lakers fans. However, the Lakers will be in for a rude awakening if they make the playoffs simply by beating cupcakes.
March 25 at Golden State or April 12 vs. Golden State
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The Golden State Warriors proved to be a surprise team this season behind the exploits of David Lee and Stephen Curry.
They were 30-17 in the beginning of February, but a six-game losing streak that sandwiched the All-Star break has the Warriors on the proverbial ropes.
Golden State is a young team that has had great success this year. However, its inexperience has started to surface to some degree, and the Lakers need to take advantage of that.
The Lakers disposed of the Warriors rather easily in their only meeting this season way back in November. L.A. cruised to a 101-77 win as Golden State shot a pathetic 33.7 percent from the field.
It’s safe to say that a solid offensive team like the Warriors won’t have as pitiful of a shooting night against the Lakers’ poor defense again, so Kobe Bryant and Co. need to come prepared.
If the Lakers can at least split the remaining games they have against their Pacific Division foe (by winning on the road in March or at home in April), they should be content with the outcome.
April 2 vs. Dallas
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Now that the Portland Trail Blazers have lost seven straight games—essentially falling out of playoff contention in the process—the Dallas Mavericks have emerged as the next outside-looking-in contender in the Western Conference.
A big win Sunday against the Mavs was a huge step for the Lakers, as they continue to separate themselves from other playoff hopefuls. Beating the Mavericks again in April would not only enhance the Lakers’ playoff hopes, but it would also sting Dallas with another demoralizing loss.
The Lakers sit pretty comfortably with the ninth seed in the Western Conference. There’s still work to be done to make the playoffs; however, if they defeat teams in the hunt and shatter their playoff hopes, climbing the standings will be that much easier.
The Lakers need to be looking up at competition the rest of the way. If they lose to Dallas, it will force them to look in the rear-view mirror. That’s something L.A. can’t afford to have happen.
April 7 at Los Angeles Clippers
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Although the April 7 matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers is technically a road game, the Lakers will still be playing at the friendly confines of Staples Center.
The Lakers are certainly the most storied basketball franchise in Los Angeles by a wide margin, but the Clippers have taken a stranglehold on the top spot in the Battle of L.A.
The Clippers have defeated the Lakers in all three of their meetings this season, and those wins have come by an average of 13 points per game. (The worst loss for the Lakers against the Clippers came on Valentine’s Day, when they lost by 24 points.)
The April 7 contest between the Lakers and Clippers is the final chance for the Lakers to avoid a season sweep at the hands of their budding rival.
Finishing the season with an 0-4 mark against the Clippers would not only sting the Lakers’ pride, but it would also provide the Clips with a ton of confidence should those two teams meet up in the postseason.
April 10 at Portland
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Contrary to just about every NBA fans’ preseason predictions, the Portland Trail Blazers were actually in the playoff hunt in a tough Western Conference. Despite their early success, a recent seven-game losing streak has thrust the Trail Blazers back down to earth.
The Trail Blazers have plenty of talent via All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, Rookie of the Year front-runner Damian Lillard and Most Improved Player candidate J.J. Hickson. Although it has plenty of talent, Portland has been relying upon a lot of young players.
That young group has shouldered the load, but the Trail Blazers lack of any sort of relevant bench presence. The second unit averages just 13.3 minutes per game, which has hindered the team greatly. The lack of a second unit has put a tremendous amount of pressure on the starters to play at a high level and log a ton of minutes.
As a veteran team with a plethora of stars, the Lakers need to take advantage of an inexperienced Portland team that has struggled mightily in recent times.
Much like the “must-win” mentality against Dallas, the Lakers can’t afford to start looking in the rear-view mirror by losing to Portland.
April 14 vs. San Antonio
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The Los Angeles Lakers have a 2-11 record against the top five teams in the Western Conference (San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and Denver Nuggets). They have one win against the fifth-seed Nuggets and one win against the second-seed Thunder.
The Lakers have kept their heads above water by beating bad teams and Eastern Conference foes. They won’t have that luxury if they manage to make the postseason. At some point, the Lakers simply have to start beating elite teams.
Considering that the Spurs have only lost 13 games this season, it doesn’t seem likely that the struggling Lakers could defeat perhaps the conference’s best team.
With that said, the matchup with the Spurs comes at the very end of the season. The Lakers will play just one game after facing San Antonio, while the Spurs only have two matchups after April 14. Due to that fact, Gregg Popovich may have already decided to rest his valued stars to prepare for a playoff run.
If the Lakers face the Spurs' second unit and lose, it will not bode well for their playoff swagger.
April 17 vs. Houston
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The Los Angeles Lakers' final game of the season may prove to be the most crucial matchup of the 2012-13 campaign.
The Houston Rockets currently hold the eighth seed in the Western Conference, just one spot above the Lakers. Due to their proximity in the standings, there is a chance that this game will decide who makes a trip to the playoffs and who watches from home.
Once again, the outlook is bleak for the Lakers, who have a 1-2 record against Houston this season.
The Rockets are the second-best team in the league in terms of scoring, averaging 106.3 points per game. If the Lakers hope to beat a tough, young Houston team to finish out what has been a disappointing season, their 23rd-ranked defense will have to buckle down.
If Los Angeles manages to play well enough leading up to that point (while hoping the Rockets struggle), this game may not turn out to be so crucial. But I simply can’t see that happening.
Look for this matchup to have major postseason implications in the Western Conference, and consider it a must-win game for the Lakers.