The Los Angeles Lakers are down to their final 25 games of the NBA regular season, and as it stands, they’re three games out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference. While that gap isn’t insurmountable, it’s not going to be easy to make up with less than two months left in the season.
If the Lakers are going to sneak into the playoffs, they can’t afford to make a single mistake for the rest of the season. Not one.
To simplify the remaining games on the Lakers’ schedule, I’ve broken down their upcoming matchups into three categories:
- Must-win games: Games against lesser opponents they can’t afford to lose.
- Please win games: Games against teams they can beat if they’re locked in.
- Just get one games: Games against teams they would have to upset.
I’ve also included my predictions and how they effect the Lakers’ win total, but ultimately, this breakdown is just to give context to how difficult the playoff push is going to be for Los Angeles going forward.
Enjoy (or at least try to).
The “must-win” games: 8
Truthfully, every game from here on out is must-win for the Lakers, but especially the games against lesser teams that they should beat.
Over the last 25 games, the Lakers will see six teams that are currently projected to have a top-10 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft: The New Orleans Pelicans, Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks and Washington Wizards. They’ve gone 6-3 against those teams this season, with losses at the hands of the Grizzlies, Knicks and Wizards. LeBron James played in all but one of those losses.
They’ll play each of the aforementioned teams one time with the exception of the Pelicans, who they’ll see three more times before the season ends. That’s eight games total, if I can do simple math correctly. Just three of those eight games will be played at home.
The Pelicans are the team the Lakers will have to look out for, not only because they play in New Orleans for two of their three matchups, but because Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday are still on the roster. As long as they’re on the floor, the Pelicans will have a chance.
Prediction: Lakers go 7-1, with a loss to the Pelicans on the road.
New record: 35-30
The “please win” games: 11
So, there’s good news and bad news.
The good news is that over their final 25 games, the Lakers will play a handful of teams that have been notoriously hot and cold this season. The bad news is that the Lakers also fall into that category, making those games (more or less) a coin toss.
The teams that they’ll see that also fit that description are the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, Brooklyn Nets, Sacramento Kings, Utah Jazz, Charlotte Hornets and Portland Trail Blazers. Of those nine teams, only the Hornets and Pistons have won fewer games than the Lakers this season.
Despite this, the Lakers shouldn’t be viewed as massive underdogs going into any of these contests.
With the exception of the Houston Rockets, who have beaten Los Angeles in all three of their matchups this season, the Lakers have beaten all of the previously mentioned teams at least once this season. Overall, they’re 8-8 against these teams, with four of their losses coming when James was sidelined.
The Lakers’ first game coming back from the All-Star break will be against the Rockets, who will be deeper and healthier than the last time they saw them. Luckily, the Lakers will be in Los Angeles for that one. They’ll also be at Staples Center when they host the Boston Celtics for the final time this season. In total, seven of these 11 key games will be played at home.
Getting wins against the Rockets and Celtics, two legitimate championship contenders, would obviously be huge for the Lakers, but getting wins against the less talented Kings and Clippers will be just as important, if not more so.
The Kings and Clippers are the two teams that stand in the way of the Lakers grabbing the eighth seed. They will play the Kings once and the Clippers twice. Regardless of how well they do against the other teams in this category, they need all three of those wins.
Prediction: Lakers go 8-3, with losses to the Rockets, Celtics and Jazz.
New record: 43-33
The “just steal one” games: 6
Let’s assume 45 wins is the magical number that gets the Lakers into the playoffs. Using my predictions, they’re at 43 wins going into this final tier of teams, meaning they need at least two more wins. That doesn’t seem like a lot, until you see who they’ll be playing.
Six of the Lakers’ final 25 games will be against top-three teams. In the month of March alone, the Lakers will see the Milwaukee Bucks twice and the Toronto Raptors and Denver Nuggets once. Then, in their final five games of the season, they’ll play the Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors once each.
On the season, they’re 3-5 against these teams, with wins against the Nuggets, Warriors and Thunder. They lost to the Raptors 121-107 in November. They have yet to play the Bucks, who hold the best record in the NBA.
As if that wasn’t terrifying enough, three of those six games will be on the road. Again, the Lakers need just two wins.
The Nuggets and Thunder stand out as the teams the Lakers can steal a win against, not just because they’re the lowest in the standings among the group, but because they don’t have the sheer amount of star power the Warriors, Raptors or Bucks have.
The Lakers and Warriors have had fun battles this season, but betting against Golden State would be silly. As for the Raptors and Bucks, all Los Angeles can do is pray.
Prediction: Lakers go 1-5, with their lone win coming against the Nuggets at home.
Final record: 44-38
If the Lakers can rediscover their form from before James got hurt, this schedule won’t look as daunting as it currently does, but in order to do that they have to regroup and get over the drama that was caused by the NBA trade deadline.
A postseason without The King sounds unrealistic, but it’s looking like a real possibility. Here’s to hoping they can make these last 25 games worth remembering.