Spurs might be better matchup for Lakers instead of Thunder
The Lakers (36-34) are in eighth place, the final playoff spot, in the Western Conference with 12 games left to play.
The best they’ll be able to do is climb to sixth place with a strong finish, catching both the Golden State Warriors (40-31) and Houston Rockets (38-31). The worst would be 11th place behind the Utah Jazz (34-35), Dallas Mavericks (33-36) and Portland Trail Blazers (33-36).
The San Antonio Spurs (53-16) are currently in first place in the West, followed by the Oklahoma City Thunder (51-19).
Third place is a battle between the Denver Nuggets (49-22), Clippers (48-22) and Memphis Grizzlies (47-22). Unless the Lakers are on the verge of earning the sixth seeding, the battle for third isn’t especially significant.
The most likely path would see the Lakers visiting San Antonio for the first round of the playoffs, a team they’ve competed closely with in two games.
The first was at Staples Center — before Coach Mike D’Antoni took over from interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff. Despite playing without Steve Nash and Steve Blake, the Lakers lost by only two points, 84-82.
The second was in San Antonio. The Lakers fell by just three points (108-105) despite playing very short-handed (without Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill and Blake) on the second night of a back-to-back.
San Antonio will visit Staples Center on April 14 for the third and final regular-season meeting.
If the Lakers were able to climb to seven or if the Thunder eclipse the Spurs for the top seed in the West, the Lakers would be facing a very different matchup.
The Thunder have beaten the Lakers in three of four meetings. The Lakers lost the first by six (114-108) in Oklahoma City in early December, playing without Gasol, Nash and Blake. They also defeated the Lakers, who were without Howard, Gasol, Hill and Blake, 116-101, at Staples Center in January.
In late January the Lakers got a 105-96 victory over Oklahoma City at Staples Center with an almost-full roster, missing only Blake and Hill. In early March, the Thunder won handily, 122-105, at home as the Lakers played without Gasol and Hill.
The Lakers are 1-5 against the teams they are likely to face in the first round, but they haven’t had much of a chance to put their best players on the floor together.
The Thunder outscored the Lakers by 7.3 points a game; the Spurs won two by an average of 2.5.
San Antonio might be the better opponent for the Lakers in the first round, although regular-season results only suggest what the playoffs might bring.
The explosiveness of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant might be harder for the Lakers to contain than the precise execution of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and the Spurs.
If the Lakers can fully integrate Pau Gasol, just back from six weeks off with a foot injury, they might be a greater force than they’ve shown.
With reserve big man Jordan Hill still out and Antawn Jamison looking to play through a recently injured wrist, the Lakers will finish the regular season with just one game all season with a full roster (their opener in October).
Still, the Lakers might be as healthy as they’ve been. As Gasol regains his conditioning, the team still has the opportunity to hit the postseason on a roll.
Based on the way they played Friday night in a loss to the Washington Wizards, the Lakers still have a long, long way to go before the Spurs or the Thunder have to worry.
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Email Eric Pincus at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.
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