As the Los Angeles Lakers continue to fight for a playoff berth before season’s end, the must-win games remaining on their schedule are obvious. All 22 contests remaining need to be considered must-win games for Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.
Despite that, the chances the Lakers finish the year 22-0 after an incredibly mediocre 30-30 start are slim to none. It’s unrealistic to think that the Lakers will suddenly rattle off a league-best win streak even though they’ve posted a respectable 7-3 mark in their past 10 games.
So while every game remaining on the Lakers’ schedule is a must-win, a handful of games can be seen as more important than others.
The Lakers remain in an uphill fight for a playoff spot, but winning the following games would make attaining a postseason seed that much easier.
For the Lakers to have a legitimate shot at a playoff appearance, they simply have to pull out wins against lesser opponents.
Sure it’s not rocket science, but the Lakers have had a whale of a time beating playoff contenders this season. If they have to rely upon getting wins against great teams to counteract tough losses to poor teams, there’s very little chance they’ll make the playoffs.
Moving forward, the Los Angeles Lakers play the New Orleans Hornets and Sacramento Kings twice. Additionally, they play the Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns, Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors and Portland Trail Blazers.
While Portland and Toronto have shown some success this season, they’re still on the outside looking in at a playoff spot.
The Lakers have already lost to Phoenix, Toronto, Portland, Sacramento and Orlando during the 2012-13 campaign. If they let those miscues repeat themselves during the final two months of the regular season, they’ll be watching the playoffs from their couches.
The next game on the Los Angeles Lakers’ schedule carries a lot of weight. Oklahoma City is one of the primary title contenders in the Western Conference, so it will undoubtedly prove to be a tough matchup.
Following the ankle injury to San Antonio Spurs’ point guard Tony Parker, which is expected to sideline him for four weeks according to Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today, the Thunder may be poised to take the No. 1 seed in the west moving forward.
If that indeed becomes the case, the Lakers will have to play them in the first round of the playoffs should L.A. get the eight seed.
The Lakers have a 1-2 record against the Western Conference juggernaut, winning the last meeting between the two 105-96 on January 27.
Beating OKC on the road would be a tremendous confidence boost for the Lakers. Not only would they improve their regular season record against the Thunder to 2-2, but they’d also prove to themselves that they’re capable of beating the Thunder in their own building.
Being able to beat OKC on the road would prove paramount in a best-of-seven playoff series.
As far as confidence builders are concerned, this game is the biggest for the Lakers from a mental standpoint.
The Golden State Warriors are among the teams that sit in the playoff picture while the Lakers strive to get there. Unlike the Lakers—a team that is playing its best basketball of the season right now—the Warriors have truly struggled.
They’re 3-7 in their past 10 contests and are in the midst of a four-game losing streak. It’s not often that you get 54 points from your star player and still manage to lose the game, but that's exactly what happened to Golden State against the New York Knicks.
Due to their struggles, the Lakers need to take advantage by beating them and making up ground in the standings.
Of the Western Conference teams near the bottom of the postseason standings, the Lakers play the Warriors twice and Houston Rockets once, while they don’t see the Utah Jazz for the remainder of the season.
Making up ground on the Jazz depends upon them losing games. The Lakers can take fate into their own hands by taking care of business against Golden State. In fact, they have a chance to do so twice.
Times certainly have changed in the Battle of L.A.
In a series once dominated by the Los Angeles Lakers, the Los Angeles Clippers have established themselves as the better team this season with a 3-0 record, winning those games by an average of 13 points.
The Lakers have one final opportunity to avoid a season sweep at the hands of their budding rival in April. If they fail to do so, it will sting their pride and further boost the confidence of the Clips.
After gaining a reputation as giant-killers early in the season by beating San Antonio twice, Memphis twice and Miami once, the Clippers' recent success against NBA title contenders hasn’t been as stellar.
Beginning February 8, the Clippers have only lost three times. Those three losses came against the Heat, Spurs and Thunder.
The NBA’s elite teams have exploited the Clippers recently. If the Lakers fail to do the same, they’ll have a hard time staying positive for the remainder of the season.
The Lakers’ April 14 matchup with the San Antonio Spurs is one of the most intriguing games remaining on their schedule.
Given the state of Tony Parker’s health and the fact that the Spurs have all but secured a top-two seed in the Western Conference, it will be interesting to see exactly who suits up for Gregg Popovich’s team near the end of the regular season.
Popovich has been known to give his superstars sporadic rest throughout the year in order to keep them in top form. Heck, last season’s Coach of the Year even got fined for doing so (per ESPN).
Regardless of whether the Lakers will face off with the Spurs’ best players or their second unit, it will be a huge game for Los Angeles. Either way, the Lakers have to be prepared to play their best game.
In what could potentially be the most important game of the 2012-13 NBA season, the Lakers’ final game of the season will come against the upstart Houston Rockets.
The Lakers currently sit 2.5 games behind Houston for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. With approximately six weeks remaining in the regular season, there’s a good chance that the outcome of this game will decide who grabs the final playoff spot by season’s end.
The key matchup in this game will be between NBA legend Kobe Bryant and one of the NBA’s newest superstars, James Harden.
The Lakers have a 1-2 record against the Rockets this season. In those three games, Bryant is averaging 27 points per game, while Harden is averaging 22.
Look for these two scorers to go back-and-forth all game long in a high-scoring affair.