If the NBA season so far had been split up in sections and named, this upcoming and final 30-game stretch for the Los Angeles Lakers would almost certainly be titled: “the dogfight.”
The Western Conference has not been the overwhelming powerhouse many predicted it would be heading into the season, but it has been stifling close. Especially in the trenches at the bottom of conference, where the Lakers reside and will need to punch their way out of.
At the start of play today, Los Angeles is the current ninth seed, and after a tremendously important win over their Staples Center co-tenants, are only a game behind the Clippers for the final playoff spot.
Yet, despite being fingertips away from their first playoff berth in six years, they also are dangerously close to the jostling teams behind them.
The Lakers did not do themselves any favors during Lebron James’ absence, going 6-11 while The King was sidelined, and are likely still kicking themselves over losses to the lowly Knicks and Cavaliers.
But if the Lakers are serious about reaching the postseason, they are going to have to do so by winning games against “the third-hardest remaining schedule in the league,” according to ESPN, starting tonight against the Warriors.
Including tonight’s contest, seven of the Lakers’ next ten games will be on the road and six will be against teams with records currently above .500. On the season, the Lakers have not fared all that well when matched up against playoff caliber competition (11-16) but it is worth noting a majority of the sample this season has been diluted with James’ aforementioned absence, and a mountain of other injuries.
James was noticeably rusty in his return (if you can call a near triple-double rusty) but his presence had an undeniable calming effect on the rest of the team and helped secure a win in a game that would have likely been a loss if he had not played.
Tonight will undoubtedly be a difficult test for Los Angeles as the Warriors have seemingly begun to kick into one of their many extra gears. With the inclusion of DeMarcus Cousins to the lineup, the Warriors absolutely throttled the Lakers in their last matchup, in a game that also saw Klay Thompson make ten of his 11 threes on the night.
The Cousins’ experiment has thus far worked out as well as the Warriors could have hoped for when they signed the big man this past summer. In 269 possessions with Cousins on the floor, the Warriors have a +13.4 net rating.
Facing off against a souped up Warriors’ squad, the Lakers will need to once again play near flawless basketball if they hope to beat the reigning champs on their home floor again.
Although doing so is unlikely, with James back in tow, they at the very least have a puncher’s chance. That’s something the team will have to bank on every night for the rest of the season as they fight for a spot in the postseason.