The Los Angeles Lakers are not guaranteed to make the playoffs, but at this point, the team has a very solid statistical chance of being in the postseason. Granted, there is much work to do, and losing to teams like the Washington Wizards does not help the effort to lock up a playoff spot.
There are such contrasting viewpoints on how successful this team can be in the playoffs. When you talk to fans, some aren't even sure they can make the postseason. Others believe that this is one of those "dangerous" teams that could flip the switch and make a deep run in the playoffs.
Will the real Los Angeles Lakers please stand up?
If the Lakers make the playoffs, they will have some clear challenges. Here are a few barriers to playoff success.
The defensive shortcomings of this team are obvious and well documented. Through March 24, the Lakers are still giving up 101.1 points per game. That number is fourth worst in the Western Conference. In contrast, the Memphis Grizzlies are the top defensive team in the West at 89.5 points per game.
Dwight Howard is still capable of being a defensive force in the middle, and Superman is averaging 12.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. The problem is the perimeter defense.
If Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker can routinely blow by Steve Nash and either slash to the basket or kick the ball out to an open shooter, the presence of Howard may be somewhat less effective.
At this point in the season, it may be a little late to tweak the defensive scheme. In addition, suggesting that the Lakers simply need to increase their intensity on defense may represent wishful thinking at this point.
Basic lack of speed is difficult to overcome.
Obviously, players like Howard, Bryant and Metta World Peace are not going to give up on the defensive end. However, this team may need to win in a shootout on a regular basis. The Lakers are not going to suddenly transform into a lockdown defensive squad.
Perhaps the Lakers can harness the energy of Staples Center and beat a higher-seeded team at home. However, Los Angeles has struggled mightily on the road. Through March 24, the Lakers are 13-22 on the road, and there have been a number of losses to subpar teams.
When you scrutinize the road record, there are very few wins against quality opponents. Will that change in the playoffs?
Conventional wisdom suggests that winning on the road would be harder in the playoffs, simply because the competition shall be so much higher. The hope of Lakers fans is that Kobe and Co. can somehow access the magic of the playoffs and balance the playing field.
After all, everyone has the same record once the playoffs start, right?
Ultimately, the challenge for the Lakers may be chemistry, which has been difficult to solidify all season. New players, coaching changes and injuries have made it hard all season for this team to develop a sense of continuity.
Once the playoffs start, should Kobe attempt to take over and will this team to victory by taking a lot of shots? Or can Bryant continue to be the facilitator and trust his teammates to step up and play at a playoff level?
Kobe is still the leader of this team, but if the Lakers are going to succeed in the playoffs, Dwight Howard really needs to play at a higher level and be the focal point of this team. How dangerous would Kobe be if Dwight was dominating inside for an entire series?
Anything can happen in the playoffs. Teams can get hot, steal a game on the road and grab home-court advantage from a higher-seeded opponent.
Are the Lakers up to the challenge? Will all of this veteran savvy translate to a dangerous playoff team?
There are many barriers to success, but any team with Kobe Bryant in the lineup has a chance to win a close game.
Time to measure the heart and soul of this team.