With 23 games left in the season, the Lakers still find themselves out in the cold when it comes to the playoffs out West. Partly by their own doing.
Yes, the team is still theoretically in striking distance of the 8th seed (three games back and two in the loss column as of this article) but have been completely unable to build any sort of momentum during a time when they absolutely need to.
After a wondrous come-from-behind victory against James Harden and the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles responded by laying an egg on the road as they got pounced on by a sliding Pelicans squad that was without their All-Star big man, Anthony Davis.
Their losses in games they “should” win have been a disconcerting trend for the team all season and could end up being exactly what comes back and bites them in the playoff chase.
The Lakers are 1-3 in their last four games against clubs with records currently below .500. Given the difficulty of their remaining schedule, could end up being a brutal and decisive blow.
The team will have another chance at righting the ship, and for redemption, against a lowly Memphis squad Monday evening. Yet the contest unfortunately will also be one of the few games left on the docket that Los Angeles will be favored in down the stretch.
According to Tankathon, the Lakers have the 10th-most difficult remaining schedule in the NBA, and the latest FiveThirtyEight projection calculates Los Angeles as having only a 20 percent chance at making the playoffs.
That is... not great.
Making matters worse, the two teams currently ahead of the Lakers in the standings, the Kings and Clippers, each are in the top-eight in terms of the easiest remaining schedules in the league. That's a nasty combination of circumstances that are not in the Lakers’ favor.
Ultimately, the team simply must take care of what they can control. The most immediate way to do that is by beating a lottery team like the Grizzlies, and by getting back to valuing the elementary formula for winning basketball games — defense, taking care of the ball and making some free-throws.
Those are all things Lakers head coach Luke Walton has continued to emphasize to his players, with mixed results at best.
“It’s similar to what we talk about all the time,” Walton told Spectrum Sportsnet after the team’s loss in New Orleans. “It’s turnovers, it’s making free throws, it’s being the aggressor on defense and when we struggle, those are kind of common themes throughout.
"We’ve got to keep our head and go to Memphis and try to get one in Memphis. Where we’re at as a group, we’ve got to be better.”
Although that's not an unusual talking points in terms of areas of improvement for most teams following a loss, the Lakers in particular have continued to struggle mightily in doing any of the aforementioned (and necessary) tasks needed to win with any consistency.
Since Jan. 14, the Lakers are 27th in the league in defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) 29th in free-throw efficiency and dead last in turnovers per game. A holy trinity of yikes.
If the Lakers are truly serious, and motivated, to make the playoffs, they simply must be willing to do what it takes and get back to basics of winning basketball. That's a novice statement, and ultimately easier said than done, but simply a vital formula to follow in what will be a difficult uphill battle.
Their first chance in scaling out of their self-inflicted ditch will come Monday in Memphis.