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Preparing for the Worst

Backs against the wall and looking squarely in the face of failure, the Los Angeles Lakers made short work of the Dallas Mavericks Tuesday night.

The Lakers handed the Mavericks a 101-81 defeat, a huge stumbling block for the Texas side – also looking to secure the final playoff berth in the Western Conference – and a huge step forward for a Lakers side that is expected to make the postseason year in, year out.

The victory moves the Lakers into a tie with Utah for the No. 8 seed. There’s one small problem though; Utah owns the tiebreaker.

Having fallen to the Jazz twice in three meetings this season, the Lakers will need to better their Northwest Division counterparts by at least one game if they’re to reach the opening round of the playoffs. No problem? Not quite.

A Tough Stretch

With a tough schedule remaining, Kobe Bryant may not have much to celebrate by season's end.

With a tough schedule remaining, Kobe Bryant may not have much to celebrate by season’s end.

Looking ahead, the Lakers face the tougher schedule of the two teams. Los Angeles’ opponents have combined for a record of 296-223 (.570) while Utah’s upcoming opponents have gone 276-240 (.533). Whilst that’s not a huge difference, it does make winning that one extra game that little more difficult.

The Lakers do play five of the last seven games at home, where the team has performed much better this season. That won’t be too much of a comfort though. Those games include visits from Memphis, Golden State, San Antonio and Houston, all playoff contenders. Only New Orleans looks like a “can’t miss” game, and the Lakers have “missed” a lot of those this season.

It doesn’t get much better on the road either. First up, the side switches ends in the Staples Center to take on the Clippers, who own a 3-0 record against the Lakers this season. Then the side travels to the Rose Garden in Portland, where the Blazers are tough to beat, something the Lakers are aware of having come up short back in October.

To put it simply, bar the New Orleans game, the Lakers don’t have an easy game left on the schedule.

Utah meanwhile will host Denver, New Orleans, Oklahoma City and Minnesota. The Jazz is unbeaten against those sides at EnergySolutions Arena this season. Granted, the Nuggets and Thunder have put together winning records against the Jazz this season, but road wins are tough to come by in Salt Lake City.

On the road, the Jazz will visit Golden State, Minnesota and Memphis. Only Memphis has a winning record against the Jazz this season, while the Timberwolves are 0-2 and the Warriors 1-1. Even if the Jazz only scores one win on the road, it will make things tougher for the Lakers.

Looking at it in more detail, the home-and-home series Utah plays against Minnesota is a huge advantage, and could be the reason the Lakers fail to advance. At this stage, and with the current form taken into account, it’s hard to see the Lakers moving on to the postseason.

History tells us that the Lakers missing the playoffs might not be the worst thing that could happen though.

An Historical Retrospective

Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol arrived in Los Angeles following the Lakers missing the playoffs in 2005.

Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol arrived in Los Angeles after the Lakers missed the playoffs in 2005.

The Lakers haven’t missed the playoffs since the 2004-05 campaign. Coming up empty-handed that season ultimately proved beneficial to the Hollywood side.

Following that season, the draft lottery gave the team a No. 10 pick, a pick the team used to select Andrew Bynum straight out of high school. While the New Jersey native ultimately proved to be more Kwame Brown than Kevin Garnett, Bynum was an essential part of the Lakers side that made three consecutive NBA Finals appearances.

It was that season’s shortcomings that also spurred the team to re-sign Phil Jackson as head coach and, eventually, make a trade for Pau Gasol. Both were moves that proved vital to the 2009 and 2010 championship runs.

The success garnered from that ‘lost’ season wasn’t a one-off either. History has shown that the Lakers bounce back from failure quickly.

Over the previous 64 seasons, the Lakers have failed to make the playoffs just five times: 1958, 1975, 1976, 1994 and the aforementioned 2005. The side made a return to the postseason the following campaign in all but one (1975) of those seasons.

In 1958, the Lakers selected future Hall of Famer with the No. 1 overall pick, a move that saw the team not only return to the playoffs but make it to the NBA Finals, losing 4-0 to the Celtics.

In 1975, the team took David Meyers with the No. 2 pick. Meyers never donned the purple and gold of the Lakers. Instead, he made his way to Milwaukee alongside Elmore Smith, Junior Bridgeman and Brian Withers in exchange for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The former UCLA man went on to win five NBA championships with the Lakers.

The Lakers relinquished the No. 8 pick in the 1976 draft in a deal for Cazzie Russell. Golden State used that pick to select future Hall of Famer, Robert Parish. Los Angeles did pick Earl Tatum with the No. 21 pick, and the side returned to the postseason after a two-year gap, reaching the Western Conference finals.

In 1994, the Lakers were awarded the No. 10 pick via the lottery. The team used that pick to take Eddie Jones. Jones’ numbers were never spectacular but any Laker fan following the side between 1994 and 1999 will tell you he was one of the most underrated players to every take to the hardwood in Los Angeles.

To sum it up concisely; the Lakers don’t hang around when it comes to making improvements.

One Last Push

Shaquille O'Neal joined the Laker greats in the Staples Center rafter on Tuesday, verbally nudging Dwight Howard as he did so.

Shaquille O’Neal joined the Laker greats in the Staples Center rafters on Tuesday, verbally nudging Dwight Howard as he did so.

Now, we’re not advocating that the Lakers tank the rest of the season. In fact, that would be a huge mistake.

While the Indianapolis Colts were all too happy to “Suck for Luck”, the reward for the Lakers not making the postseason is too slim. Obviously entering the lottery would give the team a shot at the No. 1 overall draft pick later this year, but you have to figure the Lakers are going to be one of, if not the best team in the lottery. That gives the side about a five percent chance of winning the top pick. Those odds are too short. In all likelihood, the team would end up with the No. 14 pick, marginally better than what it would receive for being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, which in all likelihood would be in the vicinity of No. 17.

So it’s time for the team to make one last push. The upcoming schedule may not favor the Lakers but when Kobe Bryant gets the bit between his teeth, anything can happen. Maybe we’ll even see Dwight Howard respond to Shaquille O’Neal’s latest dig. The former Laker – who had his jersey retired at halftime on Tuesday – has urged Howard to up his game going forward.

While the Lakers will continue to fight tooth and nail for that final playoff berth, one thing’s for certain; if the side fails to make the postseason those “We want Phil” chants are going to get a lot louder.

Maybe it’s time to put some cash down on Phil Jackson returning to the fold next season.


Remaining Schedule (LA Lakers)

Apr. 5: vs. Memphis

Apr. 7: at LA Clippers

Apr. 9: vs. New Orleans

Apr. 10: at Portland

Apr. 12: vs. Golden State

Apr. 14: vs. San Antonio

Apr. 17: vs. Houston

Remaining Schedule (Utah)

Apr. 3: vs. Denver

Apr. 5: vs. New Orleans

Apr. 7: at Golden State

Apr. 9: vs. Oklahoma City

Apr. 12: vs. Minnesota

Apr. 15: at Minnesota

Apr. 17: at Memphis

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