A Lakers turnaround could still mean a top-eight playoff seeding
The 15-21 Lakers are in a serious hole, dropping six consecutive games and facing real danger that they might not make the playoffs.
Injuries have been a factor all year. Steve Nash is finally healthy after missing almost two months with a leg fracture. Dwight Howard (shoulder), Pau Gasol (concussion) and Steve Blake (abdominal surgery) are currently on the shelf. Jordan Hill (hip)is done for the season.
Even when the Lakers have been relatively healthy, the team’s defense has been unreliable on most nights.
Now they’re currently in 11th place in the Western Conference, 13 games behind the first-place Oklahoma City Thunder. In the Pacific Division, the Lakers are 12 1/2 games behind the Clippers.
Catching the fifth-place Golden State Warriors (23-12) seems out of reach, even if it’s mathematically possible.
The Lakers’ main goal is simply to finish in eighth place, although as high as sixth is still somewhat attainable. The Lakers visit the Denver Nuggets (22-16) on Feb. 25. A Lakers’ victory would tie the season series, but the Nuggets probably would have the tiebreaker on conference record.
Denver also has a much easier schedule than the Lakers the rest of the way with six less road games. It would take more than a strong finish from the Lakers but also a major Denver slump.
The Portland Trail Blazers are in seventh place (20-16) and are currently one of the hotter teams in the NBA. They visit Staples Center on Feb. 22. The winner will take the season series and thus the tiebreaker.
Portland doesn’t have tremendous depth on their roster. They seem far more likely to dip than the Nuggets.
The Houston Rockets (21-17) are currently in eighth after losing three in a row. The Lakers will host Houston the final day of the regular season, which could prove significant. The Rockets have a 2-1 series lead. The Lakers are five games behind in the standings but their conference record is only 2 1/2 in back of the Rockets.
If the Lakers can overtake Houston and win the last head-to-head meeting, they might be able to seize the tiebreaker. If so, the Rockets could be within reach.
Of course, the Lakers also have to leapfrog the Utah Jazz (20-19) and the Minnesota Timberwolves (16-17), the latter seeming easier to catch with All-Star power forward Kevin Love out for a couple of months with a broken hand. The Jazz have struggled a bit with point guard Mo Williams out with injury but a home-heavy schedule could see the Jazz finish in the top eight.
The Lakers have already lost twice to the Jazz with the final meeting in Utah on Jan. 25, already giving the Jazz the tiebreaker.
Oddly, the Lakers and Wolves haven’t met yet this season. They play two in Minnesota and one at Staples Center. A Lakers sweep would be a major step toward moving up a spot in the standings. The Lakers are having trouble winning any games, let alone three straight over the Wolves.
There’s still plenty of time left in the season but not much for the Lakers if they don’t win in the neighborhood of three out of every four through the rest of the way.
All things Lakers, all the time.
Get all the Lakers news you need in Dan Woike's weekly newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.