Los Angeles Lakers Schedule Breakdown and Record Predictions for March
March Madness has a whole different meaning if you’re a long-suffering Los Angeles Lakers fan who is angry and dejected over their completely underwhelming performance this season.
A top five finish at the bottom of the barrel should get the team a talented center or guard from the college (or overseas) ranks to pair with forward Julius Randle, who gets to play his rookie season all over again after going down with a broken leg in Game 1 of his first year.
But, wouldn’t you know it? In a year marked by serious injuries (Randle and Kobe Bryant), porous defense, inconsistent offense and overall mediocrity, the Lakers' chances of securing a top-five draft pick could be in danger if they continue along a winning path.
In an ideal world, the 16-41 Lakers continue to play hard but ultimately come out on the short end of most games. Only don’t tell that to the players. Or the coach.
Byron Scott said, per Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:
I think it's their competitive nature is one of the things. Their pride obviously is another thing. And the fact that they've got a coach that won't allow them to not do that. We've got to play hard. That's the biggest thing. If they don't, I've got to sit guys down and play other guys who will. All 10, 11 guys that we have on that bench are giving it everything they've got every single night.
Scott also told Turner, "We're going to try to win every game and whatever happens after that with the lottery pick, happens. I think if you go into it saying, 'We're going to lose every game to see if we can get the best pick,' I think it backfires on you."
It’s nearly impossible to convey to NBA athletes that they should not care about winning games—that it could cost the franchise a valuable asset if they do too well. Scott will do everything he can to see that his team competes to win as many games as possible this month and next.
Jordan Clarkson, Ryan Kelly, Tarik Black, Ed Davis and Wayne Ellington are auditioning for next year and have no other thought than to succeed.
The March schedule presents a number of solid opportunities for victory, so we should all just sit back, enjoy the ride and hope for the best. Or worst.
The likelihood of some other team leapfrogging the Lakers into the Futile Five this late in the season is slim.
March 1-7: OKC, @Charlotte, @Miami, @Memphis
The most notable game of the week for the Lakers as they open their March schedule is the first one—a matchup at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
As much as their fanbase would like it, don’t expect the Lakers to just tank so that they improve their NBA draft prospects. Most of these guys are playing for a job, whether it's in purple and gold or elsewhere next season.
At the same time, Russell Westbrook is doing his best to carry the entire Thunder team on his shoulders as Kevin Durant sits on the bench recovering from a recent foot injury that’s kept him out since February 19.
Westbrook is having an MVP season, averaging 26.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 8.1 assists and two steals per game. He's also taking 21 shots per game, which is evidence that without Durant in the lineup, Westbrook is not looking to pass the ball.
Currently clinging to the eighth seed in the West, the Thunder lost in overtime to the Phoenix Suns on Thursday and came up short against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday. Westbrook suffered a blow to the head late in the game at Portland, and it was not known if he would accompany the team to Los Angeles for Sunday's game.
This game against L.A. now has upset written all over it.
At 23-33 entering the weekend, the Hornets are another team the Lakers could steal a win from. But, they are playing in the anemic Eastern Conference and are right on the bubble of making the playoffs.
Charlotte defeated the Chicago Bulls (minus Derrick Rose) on the road and will be coming home to meet L.A. after road games this weekend against the Boston Celtics (a win Friday night) and Orlando Magic.
Prediction: Lakers go 1-3 this week, upsetting the Thunder before losing three straight road games.
March 8-14: Dallas Mavericks, Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks
The second week of March looks to be the one with the most opportunities for Lakers wins.
The most notable contest looks to be March 10 at home against the playoff-bubble Detroit Pistons. They are battling the Hornets, Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers and Brooklyn Nets for the eighth seed in the East but only sport a 23-35 record (prior to Saturday night's contest with the Washington Wizards).
Despite the weak record, the Pistons have played exceptionally well (18-11 prior to Saturday game) since releasing forward Josh Smith in December. Much of the credit goes to Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond up front.
The Pistons' visit will also mark the return of former Lakers Jodie Meeks and Shawne Williams. After signing a three-year, $19 million deal with Detroit last summer, Meeks is having a subpar first year with his new team. He is hitting just 31 percent of his long-distance shots for the season.
L.A. plays the playoff-bound Dallas Mavericks on March 8 at home. The game is notable because Rajon Rondo wears a Dallas uniform and continues to be on Kobe Bryant’s wish list to sign as a free agent (restricted) this summer. Rondo and Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle have been at odds recently.
Having the Knicks play the Lakers at Staples Center used to be a big deal before both teams crashed and burned. This contest is notable only because fans get to see former Laker Derek Fisher coach the team. Knicks President Phil Jackson may even be somewhere in the arena.
The game is also noteworthy because New York is slogging its way toward the second-worst record in the league and could even make a play for the No. 1 spot now that Carmelo Anthony has been shut down for the season with an ongoing knee issue.
Prediction: The Lakers slice and dice the Knicks, get blown out by Dallas and lose a close one to Detroit to go 1-2.
March 15-21: Atlanta, @Golden State, Utah
The Atlanta Hawks were the hottest team in the NBA in January, setting a record by going undefeated (17-0). They come to L.A. for the only time this season, which should make this game notable if only to see what a championship contender looks like.
The chances that L.A. beats the Hawks at home or Golden State Warriors on the road the next night, though, are slim. The two teams would have to be considered the favorites to meet in the NBA Finals.
L.A. holds a 22-7 home record all-time against Utah at Staples Center during the regular season.
L.A. broke an 11-game winless road record by beating the Jazz 100-97 February 25.
Guard Jordan Clarkson shot 62.5 percent from the field and scored 22 points as the Lakers won the fourth quarter, 31-19, to pull out the win.
Byron Scott, after beating Utah in Salt Lake City, told The Associated Press’ Kareem Copeland (via NBA.com), "We're not going to quit and pack it in. That's not me. I'm glad it's not them. ... We make a ton of mistakes at times, but it's not because of a lack of effort."
Prediction: It's a typical week for the weak Lakers as they go 1-2. The lone win comes at home against the Jazz.
March 22-28: Philadelphia, @Thunder, @Minnesota Timberwolves, @Toronto Raptors
The Lakers meet two of the teams holding up the bottom of the league this week. The Philadelphia 76ers and Minnesota Timberwolves are the worst and the third-worst, respectively, and seemingly on a path to remain there.
Both Philadelphia and Minnesota appear to be locks for a high lottery pick in the draft. Neither has much to play for, except pride, and so the Lakers might go 2-2 this week.
The home game March 22 against the Sixers is notable if only to see which team more resembles a train wreck. Philadelphia is young with a number of potential stars and high draft picks. A loss to the Lakers would help the Sixers as they plod along toward finishing in the top three at the bottom of the league.
After they recently traded rising stars Michael Carter-Williams and K.J. McDaniels, some in the media felt the team traded away their future. Ed Rendell of Philly.com wrote:
In an earlier column, I said 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie was either a mad genius or just mad. After the deals he made at the NBA trade deadline, I am now convinced he's not only mad, he's completely insane. The result of trading Michael Carter-Williams and K.J. McDaniels is that our remaining lineup is surely the worst in the NBA, and our two most interesting players to watch are gone.
But, like the Lakers, Philadelphia is not just rolling over. Center Nerlens Noel is just 20 years old and showing great promise. His 14 points and 13 rebounds helped the Sixers upset the playoff-bound Washington Wizards, 89-81, Friday night.
While on paper, one would think the Lakers would easily dispense of Philadelphia, this matchup could go the other way. It should be a fun game to watch and give fans a glimpse into the future of two teams that have nowhere to go but up.
Three road games follow at Oklahoma City, Minnesota and Toronto. There may be a win in here somewhere, perhaps against the Timberwolves, who are struggling and keeping pace with the Sixers and Knicks to see which team wants it less.
Prediction: The Lakers go 0-4 this week, losing a tight contest to Philadelphia at home and looking tired on the road against two playoff teams and a rebuilding club in Minneapolis.
March 29-30: @Brooklyn, @Philadelphia
Los Angeles will play back-to-back road games against the Nets and Sixers after having just played in Toronto, Minnesota and Oklahoma City the previous week. The Lakers have nothing to lose except a future high draft pick.
Clearly, the March 29 game against the Brooklyn Nets promises to be the more interesting of the two contests to end the month for the Lakers.
The Nets are chasing a playoff berth in the East and recently added small forward Thaddeus Young to help them get there. The 26-year-old, 6'8" former first-round pick of the Philadelphia 76ers was added at the trade deadline in a deal with the Timberwolves that sent Kevin Garnett back to where he began his career 19 years ago.
The Nets rallied to beat the Lakers, 114-105, two weeks ago in Los Angeles. Joe Johnson had 23 points, while Brook Lopez scored 22 at Staples Center. Shooting guard Bojan Bogdanovic had 18 points in that win over L.A. in February.
Deron Williams and Jarrett Jack give Brooklyn some firepower in the backcourt, while Young is certain to be an improvement over the 38-year-old Garnett, who may be in the final year of a Hall of Fame career.
The final game of March for L.A. and last on the road for a while will be in Philadelphia on March 30 against a Sixers team with not much to play for except roster spots. Of note to the Lakers is that Nick Young played for Philadelphia before signing with the Lakers. Plus, Kobe Bryant attended high school in the area 20 years ago.
There's no predicting who takes this epic battle of pretenders in Philadelphia. There is more at stake for the Lakers if they lose.
Prediction: L.A. goes 1-1 in this back-to-back before heading home to finish the season in April. A 4-12 mark for March will keep the Lakers right where they need to be.
The plan should be to continue the evaluation of every player and let the proverbial chips fall where they may.