Photo: Noah Graham | Getty Images
Photo: Noah Graham | Getty Images
Photo: Noah Graham | Getty Images

The Lakers are again playing catch-up in the Western Conference Playoffs race.

After a 2-1 week, the Lakers (40-37) kept pace with the Utah Jazz (41-37) for the eighth and final playoff seed. The glaring issue, however, is that the Jazz hold the inevitable time-breaker against the Lakers.

In this past week, the Lakers defeated two formidable opponents in the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies.

The Lakers’ ended the week on a sour note, conceding the Pacific Division title to the Los Angeles Clippers in a 109-95 defeat.

Even with their disheartening loss to the Clippers, the Lakers seem to have finally found their groove this season.

With only five games remaining in the regular season, the question now becomes: is it just simply too late for the Lakers to make the playoffs?

Only time will tell.

Take a look back now at the changes in the Lakers’ stock values and the impact the players should have going forward:

Kobe Bryant Up arrow : Kobe Bryant continues having one of his best seasons of his career.

Image: Stephen Dunn | Getty Images
Photo: Stephen Dunn | Getty Images

In the three games last week, Bryant, 34, averaged 46 minutes per game. With Steve Nash still dealing with leg and back injuries, Bryant has re-assumed his facilitating role.

With coach Mike D’Antoni employing a short 7-man rotation, Bryant has been forced to assume multiple positions.

As starting small forward Metta World Peace continues recovering from meniscus surgery, Bryant has been forced into the starting small forward position for the time being.

World Peace’s miraculous return this Tuesday should bring some stability to the starting lineup for the Lakers.

Bryant excelled this week, as he’s done this entire season, averaging 24 ppg, 10 apg and 7.7 rpg.

Bryant even registered his second triple double this season against Dallas, with 23 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds.

Despite continuing to play at a high level, Bryant’s increased playing time seems to be affecting his shooting efficiency. Bryant only shot 40% from the field and an abysmal 7.6% from three-point range this past week.

With Bryant handling most of the point guard duties, his turnovers have also increased. Bryant averaged 4 turnovers per game this week.

With only five games left, and the Lakers currently 1/2 a game back of Utah for the eighth and final seed, the pressure will once again rest on Bryant’s shoulders to drive the Lakers into the playoffs.

Pau Gasol Up arrow : A solid week from Pau Gasol this past week.

Gasol averaged 15 ppg, 10.7 rpg and 5.7 apg in his past three games. Gasol’s numbers are slowly starting to creep back up to his career averages.

With Nash and World Peace out, Gasol has been forced to take more of the scoring load on offense.

It seems that Gasol is finally healthy for the first time the season, as evident by his 15 points per game on an efficient 52.6% shooting.

Gasol has also been doing an excellent job of facilitating the high-low pass with fellow big man Dwight Howard.

Gasol is starting to find Howard in good operational areas under the basket, which has led to easy buckets in the paint.

The Lakers will need even more from Gasol down the stretch, however.

Gasol’s pick-and-roll with Bryant has been effective of late, and the Lakers should put even more emphasis on pounding the ball inside going forward.

With Howard commanding the defensive end, the onus will fall on Gasol to continue making the right reads at the high post on offense.

An aggressive, focused Gasol could mean playoffs for the Lakers.

Earl Clark Up arrow : Earl-sanity is back! Well, sort of.

Image: AP
Photo: Associated Press

Earl Clark had a one of his best weeks since he first emerged from the depths of the Lakers’ bench.

Clark averaged 13.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg and 2.3 bpg over the last three games.

Clark’s highlight game this week came in the win over the Mavericks, in which he scored 17 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked 5 shots.

Clark has been rather inconsistent the past few weeks, but hopefully this solid week will help him regain his confidence.

Even with World Peace returning Tuesday, the Lakers may be forced to rely on Clark’s offensive contributions off the bench going forward.

Dwight Howard even: Dwight Howard finished the week off with a solid scoring performance (25 points) against the Clippers.

Howard, however, did a poor job on the boards in that game in which he only grabbed 4 rebounds.

As a result, Howard was a little too inconsistent for the Lakers’ liking this past week.

Howard had an all-around solid game against Dallas in which he scored 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.

In the win over Memphis, Howard only had 9 points but did gobble up 10 rebounds.

As shown by Howard’s numbers, his inability to be effective on both ends of the floor simultaneously has hurt the Lakers.

Over these last five games, the Lakers desperately need Howard to control both the glass and the paint on both ends of the floor.

Five consecutive double-doubles moving forward could go a long way for this Lakers team.

Steve Blake even: Filling in for the injured Steve Nash, Steve Blake did a decent job at the starting point guard position.

Image: Alex Gallardo | Reuters
Photo: Alex Gallardo | Reuters

Blake averaged a respectable 8.3 ppg last week, but only shot 40.9% from the field.

Blake has been playing solid basketball of late, and he must continue doing so, so long as Nash remains out.

The major issue with Blake recently is his high volume of turnovers.

Blake has had an efficient assist-to-turnover ratio all season, but this past week his turnovers increased significantly.

Blake turned the ball over four times against Dallas and five times against Memphis.

This is simply too many turnovers from the Lakers’ starting point guard and must be reduced going forward.

Antawn Jamison Down arrow : After suffering an injury to his right wrist a few weeks ago against Washington, Antawn Jamison has become rather inconsistent.

Jamison only scored 4 points against Dallas, but did follow up that game with 13 points and 5 rebounds in the win over Memphis.

Jamison then scored only 8 points in 17 minutes against the Clippers, which is just not enough production from the Lakers’ sixth man.

It looks like Jamison will continue to fight through his wrist injury, which has been affecting his patented ‘flip shots’, but the Lakers certainly need more offensive production.

Even if Jamison is unable to score at an efficient rate, he must use his abilities to rebound and facilitate on a more consistent basis.

Jodie Meeks Down arrow : With World Peace out of the lineup last week, Meeks again filled the starting shooting guard position.

Meeks struggled this past week, however, shooting just 26.3% from the field and 30.8% from behind the arc.

With Gasol and Howard attracting extra attention inside, Meeks can potentially benefit from kick outs and skip passes.

Unfortunately, Meeks seems to be in a shooting slump, especially from behind the arc.

As Meeks returns to the bench this week with World Peace back, the Lakers can only hope Meeks returns to his sharp shooting.

Metta World Peace Injury sign : Despite having surgery just 12 days ago on a torn lateral meniscus, Metta World Peace is expected to start Tuesday night against the New Orleans Hornets.

This comes as quite a surprise considering World Peace’s initial recovery timetable of “at least six weeks”.

With only five games remaining, and the thought of missing the playoffs looming, the Lakers can certainly use World Peace’s contributions on both ends of the floor.

Steve Nash Injury sign : Unlike World Peace, Steve Nash remains listed as “day-to-day” with hip and hamstring injuries.

Nash is considered “doubtful” for Tuesday’s game, but hopes to return to the court soon.

Chris Duhon Down arrow : With Nash out for an extended period of time, Chris Duhon was hopeful he would receive some meaningful minutes this past week.

Unfortunately for Duhon, coach D’Antoni seemed content in sticking with his 7-man rotation, and Duhon failed to appear in any games.

Darius Morris Down arrow : Like Duhon, Darius Morris looked to fill some backup point guard minutes in Nash’s absence.

Morris was also glued to the bench this week, only notching one minute in the loss to the Clippers.

Robert Sacre Down arrow : With a healthy Pau Gasol back in the lineup, it looks like reserve center Robert Sacre will remain on the bench for the rest of the season.

Sacre appeared in both games against the Mavericks and Clippers, but only in the waning minutes of each game.

Devin Ebanks Down arrow : Devin Ebanks has not appeared in a game since March 18th against the Phoenix Suns.

Stay tuned for next weeks’ Lakers Stock Watch as the Lakers attempt to catch Utah for the 8th seed battling New Orleans, Portland, Golden State and San Antonio.