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What Is the Ceiling of This LA Lakers Team?

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What Is the Ceiling of This LA Lakers Team?
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The Lakers still have something to play for this season.

If we're talking about the absolute ceiling for this Los Angeles Lakers team—remember that means the best-case scenario, not expectations—then it can do what it did last season; scratch and claw its way into the playoffs.

The Lakers will be little more than roadkill for their first-round opponent, but they can make it to the dance yet again.

They have been lively this season. No one in their right mind would have predicted Los Angeles to post a record above .500 without Kobe Bryant for the first quarter of the campaign.

Several players are enjoying career years, and the team seems to employ a next-man-up mentality—someone is always there to pick up the slack.

Since Bryant's return, L.A. has hit a little rough patch, losing four of their first five with their leader back in the lineup.

Still, heading into Wednesday, the Lakers sit just two-and-a-half games out of the final Western Conference playoff spot, tied with the Minnesota Timberwolves for 10th in the West.

Their pleasant start has given them somewhat of a cushion for Bryant to work out the kinks and get back into shape for the stretch run. 

Therein lies the key to L.A.'s hopes this season: If Bryant can regain his sea legs—and his play is already picking up—the Lakers' entire offense will open up.

Bryant's presence has already done wonders for Pau Gasol's offensive game.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Kobe Bryant's return has resurrected Pau Gasol's game. That raises the ceiling on this Lakers season.

Before Kobe's return, Gasol was shooting a horrid 41.8 percent from the field. That would have been the worst mark of his career by a country mile.

Alongside Bryant, over the last six games, the Spaniard is shooting a crisp 52.1 percent from the floor.

If the Lakers get their two stars on track, they will be able to put up points against anybody—just like they did a season ago.

The schedule works out in their favor, too.

Heading into Tuesday night's clash against Memphis, L.A. had faced the fifth-toughest slate of opponents in the league.

They haven't been able to feast against the weak teams in the East yet. Of their eight games against Eastern opposition so far, only one has come against a team that's not currently on track for a postseason berth.

That means they still have 13 juicy matchups against the dregs of the Eastern Conference.

Plus they have the Western Conference cellar-dwelling Utah Jazz on the schedule four times and two remaining contests against the 14th-seeded Sacramento Kings (whom they are already 2-0 against this season).

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
The Lakers still have plenty of cushy matchups against the weaker teams in the East on their schedule.

Add that up and exactly one-third of the games left on L.A.'s schedule are against far inferior competition.

Don't forget that the Lakers are currently playing without any point guards on the active roster. Once this team gets back to full strength and meshes with their recently returned superstar, it can take its game to the next level.

All throughout the summer and into the beginning of the season the Lakers have maintained that they desire to put a winning product on the floor and reach the postseason for the 17th time in Bryant's 18 seasons with the organization.

They've managed to keep their word (for the most part) against the odds so far. 

Which path is better for the Lakers: Strive to reach the postseason or position themselves for better lottery odds?

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And they've still got room to grow to reach their ceiling as a bottom-rung playoff team in the West.

Yet getting to that point remains uncertain, and a larger question hovers over the entire process.

Is it worth it?

Is it worth sacrificing a choice selection in the deepest draft in years to be playoff fodder for a real contender?

Snagging a high pick and drafting a potential franchise cornerstone can be the biggest tool to rebuilding the roster. 

Maybe it's best for the Lakers to simply admire their ceiling from the ground floor.

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