Don’t look now, but the there are only 15 days left in the regular season. In that span the Lakers will close with 9 games, starting tonight with the Portland Trailblazers. Beyond them, the Lakers will also have tilts against the Clippers, Rockets, Warriors, Spurs, Grizzlies, and Mavericks — making it seven of their final nine games coming against teams either in or actively trying to make the playoffs.
In other words, the Lakers are in a prime position to play spoiler. The West is so compacted that teams seven through nine are in a virtual tie while seeds four through six are only separated by 4.5 games. A lot can happen with margins this small, and while I don’t envision a team jumping from 6th to 4th, a shuffling around of those teams by a spot or getting into/falling out of the race is totally possible. And with the Lakers having every single team in the West race besides the Thunder on the docket, they have a chance to be the guys that do the damage. Just ask the Suns who, after losing to the Lakers, now sit in 9th place and on the outside looking in to the playoff picture.
The flip-side is that they also have a chance to get blown out of the water by teams playing for real stakes while the Lakers are trying to play spoiler. Because as dangerous as the Lakers can be (again, ask Phoenix) they also have the ability to be awful. If the threes aren’t falling and their defensive intensity is what it’s been since the all-star break, any game can get away from them quickly.
This is especially true against this Portland team. For the season the Blazers are 6th in offensive efficiency, scoring 108.2 points per 100 possessions. They have shooters at every position and do wonderful job of working through and off LaMarcus Aldridge to generate offense. They are wonderful at moving the ball and taking advantage of defenses that don’t rotate consistently or who over-pursue the ball in the hopes of making the hero defensive play. In other words, the things they do well on O are the things the Lakers struggle to contain. Again, this has the chance to get out of hand quickly.
Of course, the Lakers always have a chance. If they get hot from deep or if the Blazers lay an egg, this game can be close throughout. If the Lakers show some discipline and hunt good shots more than just let it fly, they can test a Blazers’ D that isn’t nearly as impressive as their offense. If they can get Lopez or Aldridge in foul trouble early they can work against big men who do not pose the same deterrent defensively and will have a chance to put up points. We have seen the Lakers do this to the Blazers before so any outcome would not surprise me.
That said, don’t get your hopes up. When it comes to this time of the year, I think the motivation to stay in or better your playoff odds always trumps playing for the chance to knock a team out. And when measuring the talent levels of both teams, things definitely favor the Blazers.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.