During the season, one of the biggest storylines was the uncertainty surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers” placement in the Western Conference playoff race. They have since secured the eighth seed, but are barely ahead of surging teams like the Utah Jazz and the Dallas Mavericks. After a disappointing loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on March 30, there is a definite possibility they may not make an appearance in the postseason altogether.
The Lakers looked to be working things out internally, but it has seemed anything but as of late. They are just 5-5 in their last 10 games, with losses to the lowly Phoenix Suns (23-point blowout) and the Washington Wizards. It begs to question just how skilled this team is, or whether it is an issue of effort and commitment.
Many point to the coaching, in particular the decision-making of Mike D”Antoni. He has been notorious throughout his career for implementing his own style of offense and defense, regardless of the personnel at hand. It was the primary reason that saw him “resign” from the New York Knicks, as the offense was forced through point guard Jeremy Lin rather than All-Star Carmelo Anthony.
While it proved to be successful in Anthony”s absence, and thrust Lin into an unpredictable facade of popularity, it didn”t have the same effect when the Knicks were at 100 percent. The same can be said for this current Lakers squad.
Few players are being used where they are most effective, specifically Pau Gasol and Steve Nash. Despite being former co-workers when the duo dominated in Phoenix, D”Antonio has not implemented Nash as the primary ball-handler. It is folly to argue the ball should be out of Kobe Bryant”s hands more often, but it still points to how some key pieces to the team aren”t being used to their full potential.
LA has just nine games left in the regular season, and desperately need to sort out their woes. These issues should have been fixed much earlier in the season, and while injuries have played a monumental role, the Lakers may or may not head to the postseason because of it.
Of the nine games remaining on LA”s schedule, five will come against certain playoff opponents. The Grizzlies and the Clippers are two days apart (April 5 and 7), before closing the season against Golden State, San Antonio and Houston respectively.
The only other opponents the Lakers will face (Sacramento, Dallas, New Orleans and Portland) were handled well this season, with LA having a combined 9-3 record versus the aforementioned.
While prediction is an extremely unpredictable way of viewing events, especially sports, it makes the following possible but allows leniency. If the Lakers happen to win just one game against the current Western Conference playoff seeds in the next few weeks, and all four against those who are below the eighth seed, it would give LA a 5-4 record to close the season.
It is highly doubtful they will win against the likes of Golden State, San Antonio or LAC, they could manage to steal one away from Memphis as Marc Gasol remains day-to-day with injury. This particular scenario is included in the previously estimated 5-4, which would leave LA at 42-40 to end the year (.512 win percentage).
The Dallas Mavericks are predicted to be the biggest competitor for the last seed in the West, but the Utah Jazz have the easier schedule. They”ll face Portland and Minnesota twice each before the season ends, as well as New Orleans and Golden State, but will also go up against Oklahoma City, Denver, Brooklyn and Memphis.
Utah was also a combined 3-1 against Portland and Minnesota, but if they can make an inspired push, they can make it 4-0 to end the year. Doing so would give them leverage for losses, and assured defeats against OKC, Denver and Golden State would give the Jazz the ability to handle Memphis, Brooklyn and New Orleans.
Utah won their last meeting with the Nets 92-90, and match-up very well roster-wise with Brooklyn. However even if they lose to the Nets, the Jazz would still hold an estimated 6-4 record to end the season, giving them a final win-loss total of 42-40 (.512 win percentage).
The Jazz hold a 2-1 tie-breaker lead over the Lakers this season, having won the majority of the contests between the two. Should a situation arise where both have the same record, Utah would be given the nod based on this statistic.
While it”s indeed a stretch to predict the mass amount of victories and defeats for both teams, the Jazz have a slightly easier schedule. They have more games in which they are more likely to succeed, whereas LA has the opposite.
It would take a surprise victory against a future playoff foe for the Lakers to jump ahead, and while it is certainly a distinct possibility, the team”s overall lack of cohesion and effort makes it all the more unlikely.