Kobe Bryant thinks the things he thinks. And one of the things he thinks is that his Lakers — the same Lakers who are Celebrity-Rehab-reunion-episode dysfunctional and lose more often than they win — will make the playoffs in the West. He doesn’t just think that it will happen; he knows that it will happen, based on an interview he gave to Sports Illustrated’s Jack McCallum.
It’s not a question of if we make the playoffs. We will. And when we get there, I have no fear of anyone — Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Denver … whoever. I have zero nervousness about that. … We will make the playoffs. And we will compete.
But will they? Will they REALLY? *plays dramatic music*
Probably not. But maybe! Here’s the deal: the Lakers are currently in ninth place in the Western Conference, or one spot out of the playoffs. That doesn’t seem like a huge deal at first, but the situation looks more dire when you consider how many games back they are.
The Lakers are 3.5 games back on the Rockets, 5 games back on the Jazz, and 5.5 games back on the Warriors with 27 games to play. Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers and Mavericks are more or less neck-and-neck with the Lakers, meaning that not only will L.A. have to catch one of those first three teams — they’ll need to fend off these other two as well.
If we were to project out the rest of the season based on these teams’ winning percentages, the Rockets would finish at 44-38, the Jazz would finish at 46-36, and the Warriors would finish at 47-35. That means that the Lakers need to go 18-9 over their last 27 games — or a winning percentage of .667, a nearly 50% improvement on their current winning percentage — in order to finish alongside the Rockets. And the Lakers’ schedule, though not brutal, isn’t exactly cushy either: they play 15 games against teams with losing records and 12 against teams with winning records, with 13 of those games at home and 14 on the road. And the Lakers are not good on the road, with an atrocious 9-18 record.
Is it inconceivable that the Lakers go 18-9 over the remainder of the season? No. Is it unlikely? Very, considering that that would require them to tear off a streak where they won at a more frequent clip than all but the Heat, Thunder, Spurs, and Clippers — and the Lakers get to play all of these teams except the Heat! Hooooooooray. Even better: the Lakers play the Warriors twice, the Rockets once, Portland once, and Dallas once. All told, 12 of the Lakers’ 27 games remaining are against teams either likely to make or in the running for the Western Conference playoffs. So, winning those games would be highly advisable.
On a less mathematical note: the Lakers are a better team than they were earlier in the year, unquestionably; they’re 9-4 since a four-game losing streak in January, and Dwight Howard and Steve Nash are at their healthiest so far this season. But they still have no bench and they’re still relying on the mercurial Dwight Howard, Thrower of Tantrums, not to mention Nash’s 97-year-old legs. So, uh, good luck.
Of course, projecting out these records assumes that the teams will duplicate their effort’s up to this point: that the Rockets won’t see James “Jim” Harden’s wheels fall off in a season where he’s seen his minutes increase drastically; that the Jazz will keep up their high level of play from recent weeks; that the Warriors’ skid over the last month won’t carry out through the end of the season. All the same, this season has taught us repeatedly that this Lakers team is fundamentally flawed. To think that Dwight, Kobe, Grumpy Old Men-era Nash, and the walking David Lynch movie that is Metta World Peace are a better bet than Houston, Utah, and Golden State is something akin to delusion.