Can Lakers stay close enough to make playoff push in April?

Can Lakers stay close enough to make playoff push in April?
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and Clippers guard Chris Paul embrace before a Nov. 6, 2013, exhibition game at Staples Center. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

If the Lakers can stay healthy this season, after an injury-plagued, 27-win 2013-14, the team may be able to rebound through March with a winning record.

Losing center/forward Pau Gasol to the Chicago Bulls in free agency won't help, but the return of Kobe Bryant after knee and Achilles injuries should lead to a more successful 2014-15 season.


Every team plays an 82-game schedule, but the Lakers have a relatively light path with only 16 games on consecutive nights, and no road trip longer than a five-game stint in March.

Starting April with a 38-35 or even 39-34 record may not be out of reach.

The final month features seven games at Staples Center (including one "away" game against the Clippers) and just two on the road outside of Los Angeles. Five of the nine games will be played against teams that weren't able to make the playoffs in 2014.

April opens with a three-game homestand, starting with the New Orleans Pelicans on the first of the month. After hosting the Portland Trail Blazers (April 3) and Clippers (April 5), the Lakers "travel" to the Clippers on April 7.

A visit to Denver the following night may prove to be the most challenging battle of the month.

The Lakers then are scheduled to return home for two against the Minnesota Timberwolves (April 10) and Dallas Mavericks (April 12). The team's second back-to-back set starts on Apr. 13 in Sacramento against the Kings.

The regular season wraps on Apr. 15, with the Kings visiting the Lakers.

A 6-3 finish might lift the Lakers near the 45-win mark -- assuming a strong, healthy season in which they are more competitive than many might expect.

The Lakers have an unproven roster with new faces such as Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis and rookie forward Julius Randle.

The Western Conference is loaded with power teams including the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and the Clippers. Other playoff caliber squads should be the Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, Blazers and Mavericks.  Even the Phoenix Suns and Pelicans may chase a playoff spot, giving the Lakers almost no margin for error.

A slow start, key injury (or in last season's case, multiple injuries) or simply a potential talent gap may bury the Lakers before they ever get to April.

It took 49 victories for the Mavericks to make the playoffs last year, leaving out the 48-win Suns. A year prior, the Lakers were the seventh seed, tied with the eighth place Rockets with 45 wins.

It might take everything the Lakers have to get to 45.  The postseason possibility may be more about the conference weakening than the Lakers' own success -- and there's little reason to think the West will be any weaker.

The final month of the season can be difficult to predict as the best teams often rest starters and the worst teams sit veterans to develop young players and improve their position in the NBA's draft lottery.


If the Lakers are clearly out of the postseason mix in March, the slide through to mid-April could be ugly. The Lakers may not be one of the top eight teams in the conference, but they are unlikely to be among the bottom five in the league.

The Suns will get the Lakers' draft pick, as part of the Steve Nash trade, but not in 2015 if the Lakers finish with a top-five selection. Even if the Lakers do have a bad year, they're unlikely to top last season's fiasco that saw them just seventh in the draft.

If Randle, the fruit of that disaster, has a rookie-of-the-year-level season and Bryant shows few ill effects of his recent injury history, the Lakers may very well finish with a record above .500.

The playoffs may be the goal, but it's one that may be out of reach for the Lakers despite a solid season. If that becomes apparent too quickly to the Lakers -- extinguishing some of the team's fire late in the season -- a 36-40 win count isn't out of the question.

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