The Los Angeles Lakers find themselves in the unfamiliar position of having to fight for the eighth and final playoff spot in the NBA’s Western Conference. Despite their mediocre record this season, coverage of the Lakers has not been lacking, with a litany of talking points about the team dominating the headlines every week. Such are the problems that come with being one of the sport’s most storied franchises. One question remains relevant to round out the season, however: will the Lakers make the playoffs?
The reasonable man’s answer, at least at this point, is no.
The Lakers are trying to box out two other teams on the fringes of a playoff berth: the rejuvenated Dallas Mavericks and the persistent Utah Jazz. As it stands, Dallas has the easiest schedule on paper, but only by default. The Mavericks’ most difficult games include two against a Denver Nuggets squad which lost most of its fangs when their talented, tempo-pushing point guard Ty Lawson became sidelined with a torn plantar fascia.
The Jazz are picking up steam at the perfect time, and also have a favorable schedule to end the season, with two games against the Kevin Love-less Timberwolves and another against the aforementioned Nuggets.
That’s not to say strength of schedule is all-important. The Lakers have dropped games to presumed doormats, including a 23-point drubbing at the hands of the normally hapless Phoenix Suns and a loss against the Washington Wizards.
The Mavericks also have the reassurance of a resurgent Dirk Nowitzki. The franchise’s undoubted star has poured in more than 30 points twice in the past three games, including a 35-point blackout against a scrappy Chicago team last Saturday, where he shot 14-of-17 from the field, going 5-of-6 from beyond the three-point line. If this Nowitzki shows up down the stretch for the Mavs, it’s less of a question and more of a fact that the Lakers will end up watching the playoffs on TV.
Contrary to expectations, the return of the Lakers’ stars from injury has led to a funk, as the Lakers have dropped four of their last six games. The troubled nucleus of Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash has been a curse in disguise for the team, whose four future Hall of Famers can’t play 48 minutes with one another without committing embarrassing turnovers, blowing defensive assignments and taking atrociously ill-advised jumpers.
Two teams appear to be showing signs of life at exactly the right time, while one team still can’t seem to establish its identity 74 games into the season. Being an avowed Lakers fan makes me hope I’m wrong, but the Lakers might have more than a mere identity crisis on their hands this summer.