The NBA: Can the Lakers Still Make the Playoffs?

The addition of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash has not translated into wins for the LA Lakers.
Can they still make a push to reach the playoffs at 15-21 and 5 games behind the 8th spot?
(Image by: Getty Images)

After 36 games, the Los Angeles Lakers are 15-21 with a 6-game losing streak. They sit 11th in the Western Conference and are 5 games behind the 8th spot which the Portland Trailblazers currently occupy. The safe estimate in the number of wins needed to reach the playoffs in the West is from 46-50 wins in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. 

For argument's sake, the Lakers probably need to win at least 48 games to give themselves a chance to make the post-season. That means they need to go 33-13 in their last 46 games, a winning percentage of 0.717 or winning at least 7 of every 10 games. Can the Lakers still do that?

To check the Lakers's chances of making the playoffs, we have to talk a look at their remaining schedule. They have played 19 (10-9 record) home games and 17 (5-12) on the road which leaves them with 22 home games and 24 road games. Of their 15 wins, only 6 of those have come against winning teams (above .500 teams) and none against the top 4 teams of the West which are the Thunder, Clippers, Spurs and Grizzlies. 

They have 23 games left against teams over .500 that includes 2 games vs. the Heat, Celtics, Bulls, Hawks and 1 each at the Pacers and Nets. Meanwhile in the West, the Lakers have 2 more versus the Thunder, Clippers, Grizzlies, Warriors and then 1 each for the Nuggets and Spurs. They have only beaten the Warriors twice and the Nuggets once. In other words, their schedule looks very tough. 

To make matters worse, injuries have ravaged the Lakers. Steve Blake is still out and Jordan Hill could be out for the rest of the season. Pau Gasol could be back soon from concussion symptoms while Dwight Howard is day-to-day with his shoulder injury. Howard's injury could be troublesome in the future if it does not get better soon. Steve Nash already missed more than a month with his broken leg. 

In the 12 games that Nash played, the Lakers are 3-9. His numbers are down although the shooting percentages are relatively same from last year. His shot attempts are less which was to be expected playing alongside 3 other all-stars. It's on defense that Nash hurts the Lakers. He is not the only one to be blamed for that. The Lakers are 26th in team defense, giving up 102.1 per game. Among all potential 16 playoff teams, only the Houston Rockets are giving up over 100 a game but they make up for that by being the number 1 scoring team in the NBA. 

Kobe Bryant has been amazing offensively. Most of the time, he is the only aggressive player for the Lakers. He still leads the league in scoring although not as efficient like Durant or James. For all of his scoring prowess, Bryant's love for tough shots and sometimes ill-advised shots hurt the Lakers more. The Lakers are slow to recover during transition defense and when Kobe takes long shots and misses them, the other players are not always in the right positions to defend the opponents. 

Maybe a play from the post coming from Gasol or Howard might be better for their offense (more efficient) and defense since it allows the perimeter players ample time to anticipate a miss and then go back on defense. Long shots produce long rebounds and those rebounds can become outlet passes that lead to fastbreak points. When Kobe takes most of the shots, the whole group is susceptible to quick strikes from the other team since no one gets back on defense, including Kobe who is not the same defensive player he was a few years ago. 

Also, keeping the others more involved with shots also boosts their interest when it comes to rebounding and helping on defensive rotations (ahem, Dwight and Artest). I have seen sequences where the Lakers appear lackadaisical on defense or they simply dont communicate with each other which leads to easy baskets for the opponents. That blame goes to the coach who was never a believer of defense. 

So, can the Lakers fix this mess? I think they still can. 

First, they need to play Gasol in the post more. That's where he is more effective and that's where he can make plays and initiate the offense. Gasol is at a career-low in points and shooting percentage from taking too many jumpers. It would be better if Gasol and Howard dont share too much time on the court together since they both clog the lanes. Gasol coming from the bench as the sixth man will be better for the second unit too. They should play Earl Clark or Jamison or even Jodie Meeks more just to get more shooters together with Howard.

Second, Nash needs to do more pick and rolls with Howard/Gasol and maybe pick and pops with Kobe Bryant. Nash also needs to be more assertive when it comes to taking shots. They cant have Kobe doing all the work on offense. Kobe also needs to tone down his compulsion to take all the shots in the clutch especially when he is taking tough shots that are well-defended. Sharing the ball actually leads to more points and thus, more wins. 

Third, the coach needs to devote all of his practices on defensive rotations. Scoring aint a problem for the Lakers. D'Antoni also needs to loosen his grip on the bench and play Clark and Sacre more. These guys actually provide hustle and effort every play. 

Finally, a trade for Gasol could help them the most. The Toronto Raptors can offer Calderon and Bargnani for Gasol. That solves two problems for the Lakers but I dont think the Raptors will accept that deal. They can also try Josh Smith who helps them on the perimeter and on defense. Or if everything else fails, maybe the Lakers can get draft picks for Gasol if they end up missing the playoffs.   

The Lakers can still make the playoffs but they dont have a lot of chances left and not a lot of games. Once they get there, the matchups against a #1 or #2 seed dont look favorable to them (they have lost twice to both the Thunder and Clippers). Well, making the playoffs is much better than missing it, right?  

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