By Kevin R. Linares
With the Lakers beating the Chicago Bulls last weekend they have managed to do what many said they would not do. The Lakers sneaked into the playoffs, but the 8th playoff spot is still up for grabs. If the Lakers and the Utah Jazz win their next few games, they will go back and forth switching spots at 8th and 9th in the West.
There are four things that can happen for Los Angeles. First, the Lakers can get pushed out of the playoffs, disappointing their fans while opposing fans enjoy Lakerless playoffs which has not happened since the 2004-05 season when the the team roster included Stanislav Medvedenko, Chucky Atkins, Chris Mihm and lets stop there. The second, the Lakers just manage to hold on to the 8th and final playoff spot. Third, they move on up to the 7th playoff spot and fourth they somehow manage to have an incredible run and finish the season at the 6th spot.
Now assuming that the Lakers do stay in the playoffs who will they have to play in the 1st round? Not too long ago, Kobe Bryant said, in an interview with Jack McCallum from Sports Illustrated, “It’s not a question of if we make the playoffs. We will,” adding “And when we get there, I have no fear of anyone–Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Denver…whoever. I have zero nervousness about that.” A confident answer by Kobe indeed and so far his vow to make the playoffs is very well on track. Unfortunately, this is the Western Conference and although Kobe can be very convincing with his answers and confidence, the conference is full of difficult teams to get past.
Now it is pretty safe to say that the three possible opponents for the Lakers are the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Regardless of who it ends up being the Lakers will definitely have their hands full. All of these match ups will be very entertaining. The Battle of LA vs. the Clippers, the Rematch of the 2012 Western Conference Semi-Finals vs. the Thunder and a series that would include two teams that together have won 9 out of the last 14 NBA championships vs. the Spurs.
Lakers vs. Spurs
|11/13 SAS @ LAL 84-82 Loss|
|1/09 LAL @ SAS 105-108 Loss|
|4/14 SAS @ LAL Next Game|
In both games the Lakers were missing key players and their coach. In the first game Nash was out with a small fracture to his leg and the Lakers were waiting on coach Mike D’Antoni who was replacing Mike Brown after being fired just five games into the regular season. In the second game they were without three of their big men. Dwight Howard with a shoulder injury, Pau Gasol with a concussion and Jordan hill with injuries to his hip and back. In both games the Lakers bench had trouble contributing but the bench has now improved. Considering that the Lakers were shorthanded on both nights and managed to only lose by two in one game and three points in the other, it has to be a good sign. L.A. and San Antonio play each other one last time in the regular season on April 14 at the Staples Center.
Lakers vs. Thunder
|12/07 LAL @ OKC 105-122 Loss|
|1/11 OKC @ LAL 116-101 Loss|
|1/27 OKC @ LAL 96-105 Win|
|3/05 LAL @ OKC 105-122 Loss|
In the win the Lakers’s bench was a big factor, which had Gasol and Jodie Meeks in double digits. Russel Westbrook did not go off only scoring 17 points, and do not get me wrong, to say someone had an off night and only scored 17 points is scary. In the three losses the Lakers had, Russel Westbrook was a monster scoring 27, 33 and 37. Lakers were missing Pau Gasol in all three of the losses and Jordan Hill in two.
Lakers vs. Clippers
|11/02 LAC @ LAL 105-95 Loss|
|1/04 LAL @ LAC 102-107 Loss|
|2/14 LAC @ LAL 125-101 Loss|
|4/07 LAL @ LAC Next Game|
In all games either the Lakers or Clippers had a key injury whether it being Chauncey Billups, Grant Hill for the Clippers or Steve Nash, Pau Gasol for the Lakers. The Clippers proved to be one of the NBA’s deepest teams and had too much firepower for the Lakers. The Lakers bench played well in both games and need to continue if they were to meet. In the one game Gasol played he was not a factor and would need to be aggressive offensively if he is healthy when and if they meet. The next game between the L.A. teams will be on April 7th, an away game for the Lakers.
Looking at the results of the games that have been played the Lakers should try to avoid all three teams, but obviously that is not happening. The Clippers are the team I would have to say should be avoided as long as possible for the Lakers. The Clippers as I mentioned before have too much depth and firepower. If the Lakers continue to build their chemistry, stay healthy and look to play better defense maybe they can pull it off but it will be very tough to do so. Perhaps if they can win the first round against one of the other two teams and hopefully getting Gasol back only helps the Lakers, they will be better suited.
The Oklahoma City Thunder is a scary team, but even more scary when Westbrook is on fire. The Lakers can beat the Thunder and the key for them to do it is to try to contain Westbrook from going off. To beat the Thunder, L.A. would also hope to get Gasol back and hopefully he resumes his roll off the bench because that will be where they need him most. The only win the Lakers had vs. OKC in the regular was with Gasol giving a boost to the bench and with Westbrook scoring under 20 points. Athleticism will also be a big factor, one the Thunder will most likely win playing an older team in the Lakers.
Under Gregg Popovich the Spurs have been impressive for what seems forever. They are always under the radar and not given the respect they deserve. The Lakers in both regular season meetings with the Spurs could have won and ended in a shot for the tie by the Lakers that did not go down. The last regular season match up between the two will be a very important test because the team had major issues during the first two meetings and those issues seem to now have been somewhat dealt with. The Lakers will have an important size advantage and even more so if Gasol is back in time. I believe their size will be the key to win this series.
So who is it the Lakers would have a better chance of beating in the 1st round? Spurs and Thunder are the teams that the Lakers will have a better chance at beating if they were to meet in the playoffs. From the Thunder and Spurs? San Antonio. Judging by the close games with a shorthanded team, if the Lakers can keep improving their chemistry, defense and bring back Gasol in time with him being effective, they can pull an upset over the Spurs. Obviously all this will be a tough ride but what a story it will make if the Lakers were to pull it off. What team do you believe the Lakers have a better chance at beating in the first round if they do end up in the playoffs?