After the Lakers’ utterly baffling and confusing loss to the AD-less New Orleans Pelicans last Saturday night, I had a thread on Twitter describing the Lakers’ remaining schedule, as it relates to how many wins they likely will need to beat out the other teams in the hunt. Now, after the Lakers’ comical loss to a new-look and hardcore tanking Memphis team, I will reevaluate everything that I had discussed and pointed out in that thread in greater detail. Before I do that, however, here is the original (and now outdated) thread detailing the situation LeBron and the Lakers find themselves in:
To begin, the Lakers currently have a record 29-31. While there is no hard game limit needed for them to get into the playoffs, many projections see them falling short of either the Kings or Clippers in win total, meaning they would sit at 9th at most. According to one projection, 538, the Clippers (currently 34-28) are now expected to win 44 games. At the time of the original post, it was 43, which I conservatively adjusted to 42. Since they are now 1 win further along, I will now use a projected 43 win total as the threshold needed to be passed for the lower LA to squeak in.
Let’s assume that losing Tobias Harris and attempting to work new pieces in eventually takes a toll on LAC, and that they only win 9 out of their remaining 20 games and finish at 43 wins on the year. This would mean that the Lakers would need to match this number and win the series to break the tie, which is up in the air with two games left between the two (series is 1-1 at the moment). The Clippers are likely to have a better conference and divisional record, so unless the Lakers get to 44 wins, they’d have to beat the Clippers in both of their next two games against them to break the tie in their favor. Otherwise, the Clippers would win.
So, assuming a modest sub-.500 record down the stretch for the Clippers, the Lakers would need to win a tie-breaker resistant 15 games out of their remaining 22, 14 at minimum unless something seriously goes wrong for LAC or Sacramento. As stated in my tweet thread, the Lakers can, in theory, win in all of the following games: NOP, @PHO, @CHI, @DET, @NYK, WAS, CHA, and @NOP (Memphis was originally one of these games, so they aren’t off to a great start against their easier schedule). This is 8 of their remaining 22, and let’s assume they win 7 out of these 8.
If so, that means they would then need 7, ideally 8 wins against their tougher opponents, which include: MIL, LAC, DEN, BOS, @TOR, @MIL, BRO, SAC, @UTAH, @OKC, GSW, LAC, UTAH, and POR.
That is…tough. Many of those teams, including LAC, are Western Conference teams fighting for playoff seeds, and while many are at home, some of the toughest teams are away, and many of the easier games are away. The easiest of their hard games are at home, but teams like the Clippers and Kings who are fighting just as hard for the playoffs, or Brooklyn who can never be counted out (especially against defenses like the Lakers’) are not going to go down easily. It’s worth noting, also, that Home for the Lakers is also home for the Clippers. Either way, games like @ Bucks and @ Raptors are near unwinnable, and Boston, Denver, OKC, Portland, and Utah are all fighting for playoff seeds in their respective conferences.
So, against the toughest opponents in their schedule left to play, they need to get 7 wins out of those 14, and this is assuming they go 7-1 at least in their “easy” games. If LAC only wins 43 games this year, and the Lakers win all 8 easy games, and go .500 in the hard games, they would be at a tie-breaker resistant 44 wins. This, of course, would be an impressive feat. This also implies that the Clippers under-perform their projected record of 44 wins. Every game above 43 that the Clippers (or less probably, the Kings) win is just another one of those tough, tough games that the Lakers need to win, on top of winning 7 or 8 of those easy games, many of whom won’t go down easy, like Detroit, who is a solid home team and is also fighting to hold on to a playoff spot. Charlotte is in the same boat, although the Lakers see them at home.
The moral of the story is, the margin for error in the Lakers final stretch is as small and narrow as it could possibly be. They can’t take a night off against the Bulls, they sacrificed that luxury when they lost a must-win against Atlanta. They can’t just rely on offensive prowess to save them, either. They need to make serious changes on the defensive end. Teams like Brooklyn, Sacramento, or the Blake Griffin-led Pistons are not teams you can get into a shootout with, despite their somewhat weaker records. You mean to tell me you want to crank the pace in a game where Kyle Kuzma is on Blake Griffin the whole time? Good luck with that, Luke.
Either way, I can’t wait until they don’t make it and we hear “He was never fully healthy from his groin injury!” from Bron-fetishists non-stop. I, personally, am on the “I’ll believe LeBron misses the playoffs when I see it” camp, because he’s pulled heroics before, just none quite comparable to this.