By: Alan Walsh
If the Lakers are going to make it back to the playoffs for the eighth straight year, they’re going to need some help.
Whether they get it or not is going to be the million dollar question.
The team that the Lakers are chasing, the Utah Jazz, currently hold a half-game lead on L.A. for the eighth and final playoff spot. Utah also owns the tie-breaker advantage over them based on beating them the only two times that they played this season, so it’s more like a 1.5 game lead they have on the Lakers.
Back in the Mike Brown era on November 7th, they suffered a 95-86 defeat in Utah which dropped them to 1-4 on the young season. The Jazz took an eight-point lead at the end of the first quarter and never looked back. In that game, the Jazz were able to get out and run against the Lakers as many teams have done this season.
In the second meeting between the two teams, Utah won again 117-110 but this time the Lakers were under the guidance of their new coach, Mike D’Antoni. This loss dropped them to 4-7 under their new leader, and this came at a time when the Lakers were trying to find their identity as a team.
In order for the Lakers to jump ahead of Utah, they’re going to need some losses from the Jazz in their last four games. That journey starts tonight as Utah hosts Oklahoma City in a game which means a great deal for both sides as OKC is one game behind San Antonio for the #1 seed in the Western Conference.
Following the matchup against OKC the Jazz will begin a home-and-home series with the Minnesota Timberwolves who are without their best player, Kevin Love. The Jazz will then conclude their season with a game on the road against the Memphis Grizzlies. This final game against Memphis is intriguing because there is a very distinct possibility that it could be a meaningful game for Utah’s opponent as well.
Right now, Memphis is in the #5 spot in the West but they can’t drop any further than that. However, they can move up to either the #3 or #4 spot should the Nuggets and Clippers start to slide at the end of the season.
The Lakers close out their season with four of their five remaining games at home. This stretch starts tonight as they take on New Orleans at the Staples Center. This is a very winnable game for the Lakers and they have to realize the situation at hand. It’s very simple, if they lose a game in this five-game stretch it’s likely that the Jenga tower will collapse and they will be on the outside looking in when the playoffs begin.
The remaining games for the Lakers after tonight include a game on the road in Portland tomorrow night, and then three straight at home to close it out against Golden State, San Antonio, and Houston which is no easy task as all of these teams are still trying to position themselves comfortably for the playoffs.
The Lakers have certainly put themselves in a tough spot, but what’s disheartening about this ordeal is that it’s not up to them whether they make it in or not; it’s ultimately up to Utah and whether they can lose at least two of these games.
One thing that the Lakers might have going for them is the refs. Let’s face it, no one wants to see Utah in the playoffs. I’m pretty sure Utah doesn’t even want to see Utah in the playoffs. It’s much more exciting with the bigger markets in the playoffs and this will work in the Lakers favor.
I’m not saying the refs will deliberately give these games to the Lakers down the stretch but if there are borderline calls, expect the Lakers to get the long end of the stick.