If/When Do The Lakers Slide Into The Eighth Spot In The West?

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I listened to this man, Kurt Rambis, speaking about the Lakers on SportsCenter this afternoon. When he explained what he felt Los Angeles needed to do to make the playoffs, I was kind of confused. When he was talking, he made it seem like there was an incredible and almost insurmountable gap between the Lakers and the eighth spot.

The gap, as we speak, is a game and a half. Mr. Rambis, you’re wrong.

I no longer believe that there is a question in regards to if the Lakers will get into the eighth spot, but when the Lakers will make the move. Will the Lakers stay there? That remains to be seen. But, mark my words, the Lakers will get into the eighth spot in the Western Conference. 

The next question is, who falls? Well, right now, there are three teams that are somewhat within reach. Golden State is currently in the sixth spot and four games ahead of the Lakers. Right now, I am ruling them out. They are 20-7 at home this season behind one of the best, if not the best, home crowds in all of the association. Even better for the Warriors, they play 14 out of their final 20 games at home. How can Los Angeles compete with that? They can’t.

The next team in sight is the Houston Rockets. Houston is the current holder of the seventh spot in the West and two games ahead of the Lakers. There is a possibility that the Lakers could catch the Rockets. If it were to happen, would I be surprised? No.  I don’t see it happening though. First of all, the Rockets are the highest-scoring offense in the NBA. In one season, James Harden has gone from Sixth Man of the Year to superstar in just one year. Chandler Parsons is having a very strong sophomore campaign, scoring 15 points and shooting about 39 percent from beyond the arc and Jeremy Lin is quietly having a solid season, averaging 13 points and six rebounds a game. In addition, Houston is ninth in the league in point differential. Are they better-suited to win a playoff series than the Lakers? Probably not, but they will hold on over the last 19 games.

That leaves one team, the eighth seed, the Utah Jazz. This, to me, seems like the team most likely to falter down the stretch. Over their last 10 games, Utah is just 5-5, losing to teams like Sacramento, Milwaukee and Cleveland in the process. Over the Lakers’ last 10 games, Los Angeles is 7-3. So, in the last 10 games, the Lakers gained two games. In theory, The Lakers will have the lead in the next 10 games. I am going to be a little bit more ambitious though. Kurt Rambis says that the Lakers will need to scratch and claw to get in, but I believe that the Lakers sneak into that eighth spot in the next five games. Here’s each team’s schedule over the next five games:

Utah: @ Chicago, @ NY Knicks, vs. Detroit, @ Oklahoma City, vs. Memphis. My Prediction: 1-4 after five games, 33-34 overall.

Los Angeles: vs. Toronto, vs. Chicago, @ Orlando, @ Atlanta, @ Indiana. My Prediction: 3-2 after five games, 34-33 overall.

The way I see it, Utah only beats Detroit in that rough stretch of games. Los Angeles takes care of Toronto, Orlando and Atlanta and finishes their next five games two games better than Utah. So, I think that Rambis will be surprised to see that in just eight days, the Lakers will have a one game lead over the Jazz in the West.  

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Lakers Lose in Oklahoma City

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This face pretty much describes last night’s game against the Thunder. For the third time in four game against Oklahoma City, the Lakers’ defense took a night off and let the Thunder offense put on a show. Although the Lakers made a strong second half comeback, they could not handle the 71 first-half points from the Thunder. Oklahoma City pulled away late and won 122-105, winning the season series three games to one.

Despite a disgusting loss, there were a few positives in last night’s game. For starters, Kobe Bryant scored 30 points once again, and he now leads the NBA in 30-point games. He left the court in the first quarter after injuring his arm, so him dropping 30 was impressive. Also, Metta World Peace had a solid second half that got the Lakers back into the game. He ended the contest with 16 points on five-of-eleven shooting. Like World Peace, Steve Nash also had a solid second half and finished the game with 20 points.

For the fifth night in a row, the Lakers were able to shoot over 40 percent from long range. They made 12 out of their 29 attempts, with seven different players adding to the total. This recent surge of impressive three-point shooting gives Lakers fans something to be optimistic about. Not many teams are going to be able to keep up with the Lakers if they are able to shoot well from beyond the arc.

Los Angeles was also able to take 40 free throws last night while forcing 27 fouls. Although they were on the road, they were still able to take 16 more free throws than the Thunder (granted Oklahoma City did shoot better from the field). Of those 30 attempts, the Lakers were able to make over 75 percent of them despite Dwight Howard only shooting four-of-eight form the line.

That’s about it for the positives…there were plenty more negatives.

First of all, the first half from the Lakers was absolutely deplorable. As I stated earlier, the Thunder were able to score a whopping 71 points. I understand that Los Angeles does not hang their hat on their defense, but there has to be a point where pride steps in and stops the bleeding. The Lakers were able to score 55 points themselves, which should be enough to hang with anybody, but, as Bart Scott would say, they couldn’t stop a nosebleed. 

Giving up 71 points is quite a feat, but how they did it was equally, if not more, awful. The Thunder took 13 more shot attempts in the first two quarters, shooting 26-of-50 from the field. In addition, the Lakers were outscored 28-to-10 in the paint in the first half. With Dwight Howard down low, there should never be a discrepancy that large. The worst stat of the first half though was by far the turnover differential. While the Lakers turned the ball over 11 times, Oklahoma City only had one turnover in 24 minutes. 

The third quarter was a good one for the Lakers, as they outscored the Thunder by eight, but the fourth quarter was a let-down. Los Angeles made a push and cut the deficit to just five, but it went down quickly from there. The Lakers simply just ran out of gas. In the last five-and-a-half minutes, the Lakers did not score once and Oklahoma finished the game on a 12-0 run.

If the Lakers were to make the playoffs, there would be a good chance of them having to play Oklahoma City. I really do not hope this is the case because I do not think the Lakers match up well against them, especially against Russell Westbrook. The Lakers do not have a guard that can shut him down; not many teams do, but Los Angeles definitely does not. If the Lakers have a few more nights like this though, they won’t have to worry about the playoffs.