The Los Angeles Lakers are starting to run out of chances. But there is still time, and the Lakers are only three games behind the Houston Rockets for the eighth spot in the Western Conference.
Then again, aren’t the Lakers always three games out of the last spot?
If you buy the statistics calculated by Hollinger’s Playoff Odds (via ESPN), the Lakers will need 44 wins to pass the Rockets—or whoever holds that eighth spot at the end of the season. At 28-30, Los Angeles would need to finish the year on a 16-8 run.
According to Marc Stein of ESPN, the Lakers have the fourth-easiest schedule in the NBA when you look at the winning percentages of the remaining opponents. This may give the fans hope, but Los Angeles will still need to beat some quality opponents if they are going to make the postseason.
If you look at the remaining opponents, there are some challenges. Specifically, Los Angeles has not done well against the top-tier teams in the Western Conference this year. Therefore, the Lakers will need to beat just about every lower-echelon team and also take out a few of the elite squads.
Part of the reason that the remaining schedule is regarded as manageable is that the Lakers have 13 games left against teams with losing records. Franchise like New Orleans (twice), Washington, Phoenix, Orlando and Sacramento (twice) should result in additions to the win column.
Unfortunately, there are also some “trap” games against opponents with losing records. Dallas and Portland come to mind, particularly since the Lakers must play the Trail Blazers on the road. Speaking of the road, the Lakers must play 12 games away from Staples.
Assuming that the Lakers can win all the games against losing squads, they will be most of the way to their 16 wins. Granted, that may be an overly optimistic assumption.
Beating the winning clubs is going to a much bigger challenge. The Lakers must play Chicago, Atlanta (twice), Indiana, Oklahoma City, Golden State (twice), San Antonio, Memphis, Houston and the Los Angeles Clippers.
So, all the Lakers have to do is beat all the teams with losing records and then win three out of 11 games against squads with winning records, right? Simple.
Then again, five of those games against winning clubs will be on the road, assuming you treat the contest against the Clippers as a road game. The Lakers are 10-19 on the road this season.
Just for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the Lakers lose to OKC, the Clippers, Indiana, Chicago, San Antonio and Memphis. Give the Lakers the benefit of the doubt and assume they will beat Houston and then split with Atlanta and Golden State.
The 13 wins against the losing squads and those three wins would give Los Angeles the required 16-8 record. Kobe Bryant leads the team to the playoffs and the Lakers become one of those “dangerous” teams that no one wants to play.
Truthfully, this scenario has a number of holes. Tripping up against a weaker team is certainly not out of the realm of possibility, particularly on the road. To counterbalance that inevitability, the Lakers could sweep Golden State, beat Chicago at home or defeat a Spurs team that could be resting their starters at the end of the season.
Needless to say, there is little room for letdowns, off nights or lapses in concentration. The Lakers needs to play at a .667 clip after playing .483 thus far.
You do the math.