With the way the L.A. Lakers have been playing this season, it is needless to say that every game matters. And with only eight games left in the 2012-13 campaign, L.A. has a lot of slack to pick up if it wants a chance to make it to the postseason.
Unfortunately, the next few games are anything but cakewalks. L.A. will once again square off with rivals including the Los Angeles Clippers, the Dallas Mavericks and the San Antonio Spurs, all of whom have been a thorn in the Lakers' collective side since day one.
However, knowing who they'll have to go through to end the season gives the Lakers the perfect opportunity to assess what they'll have to do to ensure that playoff berth. Now is the time for L.A. to sit down, watch some videotape and really break down its next few opponents.
Part of what has killed the Lakers this season has been a lack of team cohesion. Simple games that would normally have been labeled as glorified exhibitions have been thrown away—all because the team could not get it together with regard to communication.
While L.A. has shown some significant improvement with communication and chemistry, at this point, "getting there" just isn't good enough. These next few teams have the Lakers' number, so any sign of dysfunction will be quickly picked up and taken advantage of by their adversaries.
It's time to stop giving up the easy plays and time to stop treating every game like a game of "whodunit?" whenever an opponent gets the upper hand. The final chance to play as a cohesive unit is quickly approaching, and it's about time the Lake Show gets it together.
If there's one good thing about the Lakers' remaining schedule, it's that it gives them a chance to square off against teams that have given them trouble all season. At this point, L.A. should have opponents like Golden State and Memphis completely studied.
With harder-hitting rivals like the Clippers or the Spurs, this is the ideal chance for the Lakers to begin to analyze them and figure out what went wrong in previous games. By doing this, they are also picking out each rival's weak spots and can hit each team where it truly hurts.
On both ends of the court, the Lakers' style of playing this season can be described as passive. Easy plays are being given up, defense has had the tendency to be weak and unenforced, and the team is just not hungry all-around.
If the Lakers want to stand a chance against their remaining foes, they must learn from their mistakes and begin to show more aggression and drive in each play.
Keys to doing this include chasing down that fast-break play, having complete control of the key and playing hard-hitting defense all-around.
It's no secret that the injury bug has been plaguing the Lakers since the season began and has not left their side since. Names like Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill have been hit the worst with injury, and these instances have created some major setbacks in the Lakers' progression.
Even Kobe Bryant, the team's biggest factor, has fallen victim to injury a few times this season, and if he were to endure a long-term injury, it would cause major damage to the team's playoff hopes.
The key to staying healthy to end the regular season is to play smart. The Lakers will have to pick and choose their openings and make sure no serious risks are being taken.
It sounds cliche, but the ultimate key to the Lakers' success to close out this season is to finish strong. Too many games have come and gone where the team seems to just check out if it looks like the result won't end in its favor.
At this point, the Lakers will either squeeze their way into the playoffs, or they'll be watching the postseason from home. Whatever the case may be, these next eight games will be their chance to leave a lasting impression on this season.
Whether they ride boastfully into the postseason or go down in a blaze of glory, what's essential here will be how they do it.