Local NBA playoff picture has gotten much dimmer
The Lakers and Clippers entered the season with more star power than a table at The Ivy featuring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Jennifer Lawrence and Mila Kunis.
So much for that.
The Lakers are fringe playoff contenders. The Clippers, once owners of the best record in the NBA, are fading fast.
It’s not all bad news, though. There is a chance these teams could advance to the Western Conference semifinals!
A look at the best- and worst-case scenarios for the L.A. teams in the first round of the playoffs:
Best-case Lakers scenarios
1. Climb to the No. 6 seeding and play the Clippers.
Anyone who watched the Washington loss Friday knows this is a stretch.
The Lakers would need to surpass both Houston, which holds a 21/2-game lead over the Lakers, and Golden State, which is three games up on them. Right now, the Lakers can’t even beat Phoenix.
But just imagine the possibilities here, a Hallway Series finally veering toward reality.
Jack Nicholson versus Billy Crystal. Laker Girls versus Clippers Spirit. The Lakers band versus loud techno music.
The Clippers could easily fold under the weight of the moment. They would face a 16-0 deficit before tipoff.
Plus, in recent weeks they haven’t remotely resembled the team that won 17 consecutive games earlier this season.
The Lakers could win this series in six games.
2. Retain the No. 8 seeding and play San Antonio.
Don’t laugh. At least not yet.
Old and slow might work for the Lakers against old and slow.
The Lakers have nearly beaten the Spurs twice, and they’re vastly improved since the last meeting in early January.
Yes, San Antonio has the best coach in the NBA in Gregg Popovich and one of the smartest, most efficient teams in the league. The Spurs also have dramatically improved on defense since last season.
The Lakers can counter with a superior front line of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, should Coach Mike D’Antoni ever decide to use it properly.
San Antonio would probably win this series, but it wouldn’t be in a rout.
Worst-case Lakers scenarios
1. Finish with either the No. 7 or No. 8 seeding and play Oklahoma City.
This isn’t a good matchup for the Lakers.
Putting Metta World Peace on Kevin Durant would be laughable until you consider the guffaw fest that would be Steve Nash trying to stop Russell Westbrook.
The Lakers would win one game in this series. At best.
2. Climb to the No. 6 seeding and play Denver.
What’s that, you say? The Lakers beat the Nuggets in the first round last year?
This isn’t last year.
The Nuggets are just as explosive but far more cohesive and experienced, and the addition of Andre Iguodala gives them a lockdown perimeter defender.
Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried are emerging stars, and Denver’s bench would run double laps around its Lakers counterparts.
Plus, there’s the little matter of the Nuggets having home-court advantage with the best home record in the NBA. Not that they would need to worry about a Game 7 at Pepsi Center.
Best-case Clippers scenario
1. Climb to the No. 3 seeding and play Houston.
This might be the only good Clippers scenario since they fell out of the top two spots in the West.
Memphis in a rematch?
A run-and-gun series against Golden State?
As Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies would say, “Riiiiiiight.”
But Houston, well, the Clippers could beat Houston. Beyond James Harden, the Rockets have, what, exactly? Chandler Parsons? The ghost of Linsanity?
Clippers in five.
Worst-case Clippers scenarios
1. See best-case Lakers scenario.
2. Keep the No. 4 seeding and play Denver.
The Clippers’ enormous lead over Golden State and the Lakers in the Pacific Division practically assures they will enter the playoffs with no worse than a No. 4 seeding.
The problem is that it doesn’t guarantee home-court advantage.
The Clippers could finish with that seeding and open the playoffs at Pepsi Center should Denver attain the No. 5 seeding and finish the regular season with a better record than the Clippers.
And that probably wouldn’t work out well for the Clippers. Or maybe you weren’t paying attention when the Clippers gave up 36 points in the third quarter of a 107-92 loss to the Nuggets this month in Denver.
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