The Lakers’ current four game losing streak have many perplexed. How could a team that was just playing its best brand of basketball and winners of 17 of 18 have things turn around so quickly? If you listen to the local airwaves, popular opinion suggests it would be most beneficial for the Lakers to meet the New Orleans Hornets in the first round of the playoffs and to avoid the Oklahoma City Thunder completely if possible. The losing streak may have helped the Lakers accomplish both feats.
Thanks to Laker defeat at the hands of Denver, Utah, and Golden State, the San Antonio Spurs were able to clinch the top spot in the West back on Wednesday. From another perspective, it also means that the Lakers were able to clinch the second seed, which would avoid a meeting with the currently fourth seeded Thunder in the second round.
Friday night’s loss to Portland kept the Trailblazers in the sixth spot and New Orleans in the seventh spot. The seventh seed plays the second seed in the first round, which barring total collapse, will be the Lakers.
It’s no secret that the best chance of winning a championship goes to the team that takes the easiest path to get there. If all higher seeds prevail, based on the current standings, the Lakers would play the Hornets in the first round, Mavericks in the second, and Spurs in the conference finals.
The Lakers swept the season series with the Hornets, 4-0 and will likely do the same if they meet them in the first round.
The Lakers took a 2-1 series win over Dallas and crushed the Mavericks by 28 points just nine days ago. The Mavericks, who would love to avoid the Lakers in the secound round, had a four game losing streak of their own, until it ended Friday night against the Clippers.
Although the Lakers conceded the top spot and home court advantage to San Antonio, the current path is considerably less challenging than say, Memphis in the first round, OKC in the second, and then the Spurs.
Memphis has already proven how pesky they can be by earning a season split from the Lakers. Not only did the Grizzlies defeat the Lakers twice, but one of the victories was a 19 point spanking at Staples Center.
We already had a taste of what the Thunder can do against the Lakers in last year’s six game series. And this year they have the toughness and defensive prowess of center Kendrick Perkins to add to the mix. Don’t you think Perk would love to have another crack at the Lakers after the way his season ended in game six of last year’s finals?
So the Lakers have lost four straight. Is it really such a shock? In those four games the Lakers committed a combined 71 turnovers. That many turnovers could only result from careless play, and aside from Kobe, it looks like Phil and company could really care…less.
Against Denver, the Lakers lost the way they usually lose. Kobe Bryant took matters into his own hands. He shot an awful 10-for-27 and when Kobe shoots like crap, it’s a crap shoot as to whether they can pull it out.
Against Utah, Kobe was an even worse, 6-for-18 and the basketball didn’t move enough to overcome a Jazz team that was missing five players.
The Lakers could only muster 87 measley points against defensively-challenged Golden State? They were outrebounded as well. With a definitive size advantage, that can only happen by being outworked.
To be fair, the Portland loss was not an aberration. The Lakers have now lost 10 of 12 at the Rose Garden. But Kobe was only 10-for-25, which is just a tad better than the 39.5 percent the Lakers shot as a team.
So the Lakers may have been playing for second. Not to suggest they were tanking, but not playing hard enough as Phil Jackson expressed. This may have been a smart move if it indeed accomplishes what they want in terms of matchups. But was it really worth the risk?
The Lakers have three games remaining and all three are losable. They play the Thunder on Sunday night. Kendrick Perkins recently called Pau Gasol soft. It will be interesting to see how the Spaniard responds. They play the Spurs Tuesday, who are still playing for home court over the Bulls, and the Kings, who may soon be the Anaheim Royals, to close out the regular season on Wednesday.
The Lakers currently have a one game lead over Dallas for the second spot. If they don’t win at least two of their three remaining games it’s possible they could slide to the third seed. Oops.
The Thunder only trail Dallas by one game. So it’s still possible for them to move up to the third spot and meet the Lakers in the second round. Nice.
Did the Lakers forget about the East? They split with the Celtics and Bulls and got swept by the Heat. Chicago would have home court advantage if they met the Lakers in the finals, and Boston and Miami still have a chance to as well. Yikes.
Surely, Phil and company realize that home court advantage is crucial in the finals, especially with the 2-3-2 format. If game 6 and 7 are not played at Staples Center in last year’s finals, no doubt Boston would already have banner 18.
They say it’s better to be lucky than good. Maybe it’s better to be lucky than smart.