The Los Angeles Lakers battled back from a 25-point deficit on Wednesday to beat the New Orleans Hornets (Pelicans) behind a 42-point effort from Kobe Bryant. Good for them.
In addition, the Lakers regained their .500 record as they grind their way towards a potential playoff spot. According to Hollinger’s Playoff Odds (via ESPN), Los Angeles now has a 52.6 percent chance of making the playoffs. That is up from a number that was in the 30s not so long ago.
There is much work left to be done, but you could argue that this team has some positive momentum that could help them overtake the Utah Jazz for the eighth playoff spot.
Would making the playoffs really be an accomplishment, though, given the hype that surrounded this team at the beginning of the year? Do fans truly believe that this squad is capable of “flipping the switch” and going on a magical run to the NBA Finals?
Really? Have you seen the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat play lately?
Let’s ask a more pressing question. How did the Lakers fall 25 points behind a team that was 21-40 coming into that game? Before the Lakers arrived, the Hornets were 11-19 at home. Is beating New Orleans really a momentous accomplishment?
I would buy the argument that this was a significant victory if the Lakers had rallied and beaten the Oklahoma City Thunder on the road.
If the Lakers make the playoffs, they will face the Thunder, San Antonio Spurs or, perhaps, the Los Angeles Clippers. Then, they will probably face another of those teams if they somehow get past the first round. These are formidable opponents, and while the Lakers might sneak away with a game or two, it is hard to fathom the idea that they could win in a long series.
What does a first-round exit do for this squad? Is it something to build on for next year? Or is it the last-gasp effort of an aging team that is still trying to prove its relevance?
Would it not be better for this team to miss the playoffs, do some soul-searching and truly put this season behind them? If they miss the playoffs, it will be much easier to argue that the season never really got started in the right direction. The Lakers can focus on re-signing Dwight Howard, working on their chemistry and trying to lure more free agents to Los Angeles.
This is not to suggest that the Lakers should give up, raise the white flag and mail in the rest of the season. Of course they should keep fighting. Of course they should go after a playoff spot and see what magic might happen in the postseason.
As tweeted by Bryant:
"Rule number 76. No excuses. Play like a champion" Vince Vaughn. Wedding Crashers.— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) March 6, 2013
You expect that attitude from Kobe, and he is going to grind to the bitter end. Just know that this team is still in a situation in which one or two errors could sink its season. And even if the Lakers make the playoffs, they face an incredible uphill battle.
There is little to gain by making the postseason. This team is not built to win it all.