On Tuesday the Mavericks failed to spoil the Lakers’ chances of getting into the playoffs. With only 7 games left in the season and being a mere ½ game in front of Utah for the 8th seed, the Lakers need to finish out the rest of the season looking the best they have all year. Can the Lakers overcome the Clippers, the Grizzlies, and the Spurs to squeak into the playoffs? We’ll see. But love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Lakers are making this as exciting as can be.
After the startling and encouraging road win in Indiana (without Kobe or Pau) it looked like the Lakers were really coming together and wouldn’t be a good first round draw for any team at the top of the heap in the West. But after another heart breaker in Phoenix and an embarrassing loss at home against the Wizards (coupled with a bad looking road loss to Golden State), it looked like the same ol’ Lakers we’ve been seeing before the All-Star Break. But the troubling thing about that 3 game skid (besides losing) is that the games were very winnable for the Lakers, despite their horrendous play. How so? Individually, the Lakers all played pretty well. But as a team, the Lakers looked like someone was controlling them on 2K13 without realizing the controls had been switched.
There are 2 flavors of competitive sports: team sports and solo sports. Football, Baseball, Basketball, Hockey, etc. are all sports that only win when a team is playing well together. Whereas with sports like Golf, Wrestling, Tennis, Nascar, etc. it’s all up to the player themselves to take care of winning. But Basketball manages to be a hybrid of the two by putting a huge emphasis on the power of an individual player. Look at Michael Jordan for the Bulls and you can see how he was the piece that Chicago needed to rise to that elite level. But even then, even Jordan had to play basketball as a team player, and not just a star, to win 6 rings. The Kings just last year managed to snag the 8th playoff spot in the west, and after they won their first game against Vancouver on the road, the team captured lightning in a bottle. And then for the rest of the playoffs you never saw one player completely taking over the team because it seemed that every other game a new player was stepping up in the absence of another star (which is exactly what a teammate is for). If Kobe Bryant happens to go 6 of 17 in a night, then his assists should be a lot higher than just 3 (stat line from the Milwaukee game they lost last week). At the end of the day, regardless of how well Bryant, Howard, Nash, or even Gasol plays, if the team isn’t playing well either, (Blake, Jamison, Clark, Meeks) then it won’t matter if the Lakers even make it to the playoffs; they’re gonna get bounced eventually.
I’m not trying to say that Kobe needs to play complete point guard and only shoot 8 shots a game, but every game is different. Kobe has even said that his role is dependent on the opposition. It just seems that Kobe’s question about his role is “Are we losing?” If no, Kobe plays facilitator. If yes, Kobe plays “hero” ball. Now obviously it’s not that binary of a decision, and if there is a player on the team that I want to take the last shot to tie or win the game, it’s Bryant ten out of ten times. But the problem is the other 47 minutes where Bryant acts like it’s time to take the “last shot” whether it’s the last shot of the possession, the quarter, or the half. Over the last 10 games where Kobe actually played (in which the Lakers are .600), Bryant’s assists are averaging at 8.5 when they win. When they lost over that same stretch, Bryant’s assists average at 5.5. Those numbers aren’t hugely significant, unless you look at the amount of points they lost by: Atlanta by 4 points, Washington by 3 points, Golden State by 6 points, and Milwaukee by 10 points. So if Kobe averaged those 3 more assists a night, they would’ve won 2 of those games and tied with Golden State at the end of regulation. I mean, criticize Kobe all you want for putting up low percentage shots and not playing the greatest defense, but if he’s not passing, the Lakers will lose.
Over the next 7 games, the Lakers have a real shot at beating Utah for that 8th spot. The Lakers are the better team on paper than Utah, and in a seven game series between the two, the Lakers win that series given how well Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant have been playing. (An over simplification, but they’ve been the two most consistent players over the past few games.) But when you realize the Lakers have got 5 out of the 7 games against playoff bound teams and Utah has only 3 out of the 6 remaining games against playoff teams, (one of them being the Thunder) it looks like it’s curtains for the Lakers given how inconsistent they’ve been against bad teams throughout the season. And with the Lakers having to play against the Clippers, the Spurs, and the Grizzlies down the stretch, they’re going to have to play as well as they looked against the Mavs for every game down the stretch to even try and crawl they’re way into the playoffs. Or the Lakers and the loyal fans of Los Angeles can hope and pray that the wheels completely fall of the race car as the gas tank explodes for the Utah Jazz. But considering Utah has won 5 in a row (until they got snapped by the Denver Nuggets like the many nugs that are now legal in the great state of Colorado), it looks like they’re driving a well-oiled machine.
I’ve said it before, and you can bet money I’ll say it again: The Lakers are going to be utterly fascinating until the last second of the last chance they get to play on the hardwood this season. And I have this sneaking suspicion that Houston being the seventh seed and going on the road to play their last game of the season against the Los Angeles Lakers will make for the biggest game of the entire regular season for both franchises. But hey, we’ll see Lakers fans.
Sam Accardo is a writer for Hefferbrew. When discouragement to write after some tough losses turned into a mix of writer’s block and laziness from being on spring break, he took an unexpected hiatus from providing your usual Utterly Fascinating updates. But never fear Lakers’ faithful, he’ll keep watching and writing no matter how bad the Lakers suck it up on the floor. Check back soon for more Utterly Fascinating updates for what could be an explosive finish to a tumultuous season. Follow the Hefferbrew for all your sports and entertainment updates on twitter @Hefferbrew and “Like” us on Facebook too! You can also follow @samcar455 too if you’re into that.