By now, I'm sure you've all seen the coverage of Kobe Bryant's probable tear of his Achilles tendon against the Golden State Warriors on Friday night (h/t Dave McMenamin of ESPN), and you're probably all thinking the Los Angeles Lakers' hopes of making the playoffs are doomed.
My question is, why?
Bryant is clearly the Lakers' best scorer and biggest playmaker, but given the amount of time remaining in the season and the strength of the Utah Jazz's schedule, I still think Los Angeles sneaks into the playoffs with the eight seed.
L.A. currently owns the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, holding a slim one-game lead over the Jazz with the season dwindling down quickly.
The Lakers have two games left—undoubtedly difficult matchups with the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets—but they're both at home, where L.A. is 27-12 this season. Los Angeles is 0-2 against San Antonio and 1-2 versus the Rockets this season, which may leave you confused as to why I'm still rolling with the Lakers.
Before you jump to conclusions, you should know that I am in no way, shape or form a fan of the Lakers. I do, however, think L.A. will play with an emotional edge with Bryant on the bench and that Dwight Howard will be a monster in the final two regular season games of the season.
Without Bryant on the floor, the Lakers should be moving to a post-up offense featuring Howard and Pau Gasol, with Metta World Peace and Steve Nash handling the outside-shooting duties.
Coming off a triple-double in the 118-116 win over Golden State on Friday night, Gasol is proving that he still has plenty left in the tank to help the Lakers into the postseason. Los Angeles is riding a three-game win streak and is 7-3 in its last 10 games.
Gasol will play a huge role in the last two games of the season, but with Bryant out, Howard should be the man for the Lakers both offensively and defensively.
Also in favor of the Lakers is the fact that Utah is a terrible road team (12-27) and both of its remaining games are, in fact, on the road, against the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Memphis Grizzlies.
While the Jazz just proved on Friday night that they can handle the T-Wolves, the Grizzlies are the fifth seed in the West and have beaten Utah twice already this season.
The way I see it, the Lakers have to win one of their two remaining games to make the playoffs, as long as Memphis takes care of Utah on Apr. 17 (which I believe happens). If both the Lakers and Jazz go 1-1 in their final two games, L.A. would clinch the final playoff spot in the West.
Once they get into the playoffs, it'll be a whole different story for L.A., as I see them getting swept by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round without Bryant, assuming he is out for the playoffs.
I do think the Lakers have enough to make it into the postseason, but they won't be going far without the Black Mamba.
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