There are exactly 20 games left in the Lakers’ regular season. That’s 20 games to shore up any issues that they have and go into the post-season playing as well as they can be.
That’s also 20 games to either rise or fall in the playoff standings as the jockeying for seeding comes down to the home stretch. And with that in mind, I ask, how important is playoff seeding to the Lakers?
First, some facts in where the Lakers stand as of today in terms of the West standings:
- Currently the Lakers are the 3rd seed out West.
- The Lakers trail the 2nd seeded Mavericks by 2 games (and 3 in the loss column)
- The Lakers trail the 1st seeded Spurs by 7.5 games (and 8 in the loss column)
- The Lakers are 4.5 games up on the Thunder (but only 3 up in the loss column)
- The Lakers hold the tie-breaker over the Thunder.
- The bottom three seeds in the West (Blazers, Hornets, Grizzlies) are only separated by a half game total.
Now, some general assumptions I’m making based off the current standings and what I stated above.
- The Lakers aren’t catching the Spurs for the #1 seed out West. (No one is. The Spurs played the role of the Lakers from the past two seasons by building a lead and running away from everyone else.)
- The Thunder are unlikely to catch the Lakers for the #3 seed as they’d have to finish with a better record than LA based off the tie-breaker. With only 20 games left, making up 4 games in the loss column will be very difficult.
- There is no sense in worrying who the #6-8 seeds will be in the West as the standings are too close. Fighting for the #2 seed should not be influenced by who a potential 1st round opponent would be.
So, again, I ask how important is the #2 seed for the Lakers?
First and foremost, it matters in the sense that should both the Lakers and the Mavericks advance, the #2 seed will have homecourt advantage in the series. If the current standings hold up the Mavs would have that advantage. However, I’d argue that the Lakers don’t need HCA to beat the Mavericks in a series. While Dallas will be a tough out, I think the Lakers are quite capable of winning on the road one or more times when facing that team. Not to disparage the Mavs, but the Lakers match up well with them and I’ve never thought that Dallas has such a big advantage at home that it impacts who wins or loses. Not to mention that the Lakers have proven they can win games on the road in the playoffs, with no further evidence needed than the past two seasons where they’ve clinched series in both the Conference Finals and Finals as a visiting team.
Based off this alone, I’d say that the 2nd seed doesn’t matter as much. For what it’s worth, this is a bit of a shift for me in the past month. But after realizing that the Lakers won’t catch the Spurs and that LA would just need to hold off the Thunder, the fact is that a collision course with the Mavs (should the Lakers advance) looks more and more likely. And, in that match up, what matters most is that the Lakers play well and bring their best effort. If those things happen the Lakers have a good chance of winning in any arena, home or away.
One positive offshoot of all this is that if the Lakers do end up finishing 3rd (or even 2nd), they’d be locked into a side of the bracket where fewer threats exist. On its face, today, I’d say the Lakers biggest threat towards earning another trip to the Finals are the Thunder and Spurs. Well, if things hold up and the standings don’t change, the Lakers would only have to play one of those teams and wouldn’t face either until the Conference Finals. (Of course winning a 7 game series on the road against the Spurs will be a tough task for any team, but I’ll worry about that when it’s time to.)
So in the end, I think the Lakers are just fine where they are. Sure, I’d like that the team pass the Mavs for the 2nd seed and I’d like to face the easiest possible team in the 1st round as well (which, as of today, I’d say is New Orleans). But, if those things don’t happen I can honestly say I’m fine with it. In the past week the Lakers have shown me that they’re rounding into form and are getting closer to being the team that no one wants to face in the playoffs. And that means a lot more to me than what seed the team ends up with.
For all the teams, I think that the biggest issue is health, the second biggest issue is how well they are able to integrate their new players (for those involved with the late trades/signings.) Third biggest is home court.
I think a more important thing you didn’t allude to was their relationship in the overall standings to teams like Boston and Miami. Ideally, the Lakers would need home court against those two teams because of the 2-3-2 format of the finals.
Darius Soriano says
#2. I was really only looking at the West standings. I’m trying not to get too far ahead here. 🙂
I think DAL is a bigger threat than OKC
Darius Soriano says
You could be right. Dallas is the deeper team and has performed better this year. That said, I think the combo of Durant/Westbrook is a bit more to deal with than Dirk and company. But there isn’t really a wrong answer here, just different strengths and how to counter them. Probably closer to a coin flip than I stated in the post.
I have thought this for the last 3 seasons, and nothing has changed my mind to this point: If the Lakers play their game, no one beats them in a 7 game series, even if all 7 of those games were on the road.
And if the Lakers do not play their game, any playoff team can beat them in a 7 game series, even if all 7 games are at the Staples Center.
I truly do believe that only the Lakers can beat the Lakers.
As Darius notes, the Lakers are 3 back of Dallas in the loss column. They may be able to do something about that directly, since they have two games left (home and away) vs the Mavs.
Similarly, they are 2 back of Miami and have 1 (away) game left vs the Heat.
They also play the Spurs twice more, but per Darius, they aren’t catching San Antonio. Similarly, I don’t see them catching the C’s.
I wonder if the advanced stat people have determined the value of HCA in the playoffs vs record differential? I would expect there’s a significant advantage, possibly diluted in the Finals due to the 2-3-2 format. Sure helped the Lakers last year though, didn’t it?
I think the 2-3-2 format significantly favors the home team more than the regular playoff format. Considering very few teams win games 3,4, and 5 at home you basically have to win a game at the front end 1 or 2 AND on the back end 6 or 7. That’s a lot to ask against an evenly matched opponent.
To that end I think the Lakers priority should be to have home court against any eastern conference team because it’s likely Miami or Boston is going to win a game in Staples
honestly, with our bench, HCA at any level is important.
but yeah, i could live with either #2 or #3 for the western conference.
I, like Darius, believe that while Dallas is a threat, we cause them more problems than they cause us. We have a much higher point differential than them; we have a better offensive efficiency and a better defensive efficiency. Plus, the Lakers gave up HCA to Houston two years ago and won it back, then gave up HCA in the finals last year against Boston and won it back, so there’s no doubt the Lakers can win on the road.
Miami basically doesn’t have a homecourt advantage, because they don’t really have fans. They have a very small subset of hardcore fans (ie before Lebron), and the rest are just bandwagoners. Keep in mind, the Heat had to run an ad campaign telling their fans how to be fans at the beginning of the season. So even if Miami has HCA in the Finals, I don’t think it benefits them that much.
San Antonio is starting to have some health issues, with Parker missing 2-4 weeks. Plus the Thunder are a team pretty much sculpted to beat San Antonio with Perkins and Ibaka defending Duncan, Sefolosha and Harden controlling Manu, and Westbrook’s speed and strength against Parker. If the Spurs aren’t 100% healthy in the playoffs, they’ll go down easily.
That leaves Boston. Boston has a great HCA and match up extremely well with the Lakers if they have all their pieces. However, if Shaq and Jermaine the Drain are out of commission by the Finals (very possible considering neither of them is particularly healthy now, plus they’ll have at least two 7 game wars against Chicago, Miami, or Orlando), the Lakers will have a Game 7 advantage every game.
The Thunder don’t really frighten me, because Artest has done an amazing job on Durant ever since he became a Laker, and Russell Westbrook is very bad in the 4th quarter.
As you can see, I’m pretty optimistic about the Lakers future. The only real issues for the Lakers are whether Matt Barnes returns and puts Luke Walton back in his rightful place (glued to the bench), if Bynum retains at least a moderate amount of health, and if Fisher is able to turn it on in the playoffs again with Steve Blake deciding it’s time to show up and earn that $4M.
@6, One could argue that playing at home gives the lakers a better chance to play up to their potential.
You can look at any individual series and say the Lakers could win that one without HCA. But that leaves out any discussion of the cumulative impact of (potentially) playing the three last playoff series without HCA (especially with the 2-3-2 format of the finals).
Do I think the Lakers can win series X without HCA? Yes.
Do I think they can win three straight series against really stacked teams without HCA in any of them? I have my doubts.
Shaq is saving himself for the playoffs. And when healthy, he will be the sole reason the Celtics win a championship. All they need is a good 28 min from him and the ability to draw fouls and make it hard for Gasol and Bynum to post up (with his girth he can).
Shaq at this stage of his career is a better version of Perkins.
We need HCA vs. Boston.
I don’t think any team out west can beat the Lakers in a low-possession game. If the Lakers can run the offense and commit to defending in transition, they’re hard to beat.
With all due respect to the other teams, the Lakers can only beat themselves, so our seeding shouldn’t really matter.
Hmm, OKC knocks out San Antonio and improves on previous year’s performance, then Lakers take out OKC since they’re not ready for the next step?
Lakers take out Dallas since they match up better? How about that scenario? If Lakers catch Dallas, then in that scenario, they have HCA all through Western conference playoffs.
Lakers also still have a decent shot at chasing down Boston and Heat for a better record depending on how three teams do the next two weeks.
10 – Miami fans are bandwagoners and don’t show up in the regular season, but they get intense deep into the playoffs. As I used to be a Wade fan, I watched that entire 2006 run from start to finish. I think David Thorpe went so far as to say in a chatroom that Miami in 06 (with their White Out theme) was the most intense playoff atmosphere he’s experienced in a long time.
I can’t predict what’ll happen, but regular season (and early playoffs) Miami fans are different than the Finals-level fans we saw in 06. It’s not Utah or Boston, but it’s a much different picture than what we’re seeing now.
I concur with most of the comments. The #2 seed in the West is less important to me than catching the Eastern leaders (realistically, Miami at this point). I don’t want to start out 3 consecutive series on the road, or face the 2-3-2 format from the wrong end.
Dallas only worries me because of their zone. It’s not the individual matchups themselves. If we learned from our fiasco last year in the WCF, and play with more discipline, then starting on the road against Dallas shouldn’t be a problem.
I’m gong to ignore Zephid’s comment re: the miami fans because I’m going to assume he was joking as it doesn’t matter why your fans are at the game just as long as they are making noise. I know I’m the all that matters is talent and match ups guy around here… But HCA is a major factor as long as the talent and match ups are similar on both sides. That’s why HCA doesn’t matter to the Lakers in the West. The Lakers are just so much more talented than any team this side of the Mississippi. As I’ve been saying all year the only team that can (and in my opinion will) beat the Lakers is Miami. As long as we have HCA against the Heat I will be happy.
It’s still too early to be thinking about what-if scenarios in playoffs, but I’d rather have the Lakers healthy and focused as 3rd seed rather than tired and relieved to be the 2nd or even the 1st seed especially as the two time defending champs. My biggest concern right now is the health of our big 5 (KB, Pau, LO, Bynum, and Artest). I just remember our ’90 team that swept through the first three rounds of playoff only to get swept in the finals by the evil pistons because of injuries to our starting backcourt players.
As others have pointed out, I like our team’s chances against any team in the east or the west with or without HCA as long as we’re healthy. With that said, I think DAL will try harder and will get the 2nd seed in the west because they know that they’ll need every little advantage against the Lalers.
16, you’re assuming those fans won’t be priced out (they will be). Same thing happened to Golden State in 2007. Their fans were the best in the league until all the loud fans got priced out.
Luke Walton’s rightful place is on the waiver wire.
Why are people so down on Walton? Yeah, his contract is out of whack, but that is water way under the bridge. On this team he is, what, the 10th man? He is not a bad player for a 10th man.
It wasn’t long ago the Lakers were starting Smush and Kwame and Luke was the third best player. George and Cook were logging major minutes. Those were legitimate players to gripe about.
I’m not going to complain about Walton as the tenth man.
Don’t worry Darius – should the Lakers meet the Mvas in the playoffs, I knocked on wood for you.
19 – That’s the caveat I was going to add in there, then deleted. A first time appearance in the Finals (against the Mavs) is very different from having such a hyped team make it against the Lakers. So yeah, there’s a good chance a Heat-Lakers ticket would be far too expensive to re-create the 2006 atmosphere.
Leon Powe to the Grizzlies? Geez, it’s like they’re trying to pick up anyone who ever gave us trouble.
21, I’m not down on him as a 10th man, I’m down on his barftastic 10 mins a game. I defended Walton, his play, and his contract like crazy over the past 2 years. But there’s only so much sucking that I can tolerate before I just stop defending him.
Actually I am concerned on facing Portland in the first round. If the playoffs would start today the lakers would face an improved Portland. As I see it New Orleans would not catch Portland on the 6th spot while they are locked in as the 7th seed. So for me, I would like to see the Lakers finish 2nd to have an easier route to the 2nd round. Not that I am afraid of Portland but they would be a harder path to the next round than the NOH as the lakers always have the numbers of NOH. If the lakers finish 2nd and face NOH, I would predict that it would not reach 6 games and would give the team plenty of time to rest for the next round. On the other hand, if we finish 3rd and face Portland that series may go to 6-7 games with Dallas (assuming they dispose the 7th seed easily) having HCA waiting for us.
Craig W. says
The bloggers here have to have one player to totally bag on. Without Ammo, it simply has to be Luke. Doesn’t matter the facts or reason, someone has to be the goat (note: not the GOAT).
Without the caboose our fans simply would not be happy. Relax and just let the rain run off the skin.
I’m sure no one wants to read this, but I’ll type it anyway.
The Heat are better with Bibby, OKC is better with Perkins, the Celtics are better with Murphy, and the Mavs are better with Brewer.
And what are the Lakers doing…..nothing. They didn’t go sign another shooter or a defensive stopper. Artest and Barnes better show up come playoff time!
Matt R. says
I’d prefer it if the Lakers got the 2-seed. The potential to need to be the first team to win 3 road playoff series to win the title in 17 years is daunting but they have some control over that.
They have no control over the fact that they’re trying to be the first team in more than 25 years to go to four straight NBA Finals.
This is for you, Showtime:
Anyone watching the Orlando vs Miami game/ that foul on D.Howard agaisnt Wade was a none foul. How come Kobe does not get those kind of fouls.
I though lebron was “clutch” …… What happened?
To jump back into the potential Finals situation, we got one game back in the loss column on Miami today.
And LeBJ missed what I think is his 3rd straight crucial 3 attempt at the death. In fact, I think he scored zero for the entire 4th…
Wow, the Magic pulled off a 38-9 run.
roflcopter, Orlando beats Miami 99-96 after being down by 24 in Miami.
31, Kobe used to get those calls when he drove to the hoop more for contested shots. Most of his shots now are jumpers and he doesn’t seek the contact as much anymore when he does drive. Those legs have got a lot of miles on them.
What a beautiful finish to that game, capped by Bosh letting out his frustration by slamming the ball on the ground. He should be careful with throwing the ball so hard, that’s how guys get hurt.
Yeah, but according to advanced stats LBJ is clutch, big time. Just ask Henry Abbott.
Still waiting for reality to confirm what advanced stats “prove”: that LBJ is a stud in crunch time.
The “King” gets more chances coming right up: games home and away with the Spurs and a game at home vs the Lakers.
Dream finals would be Lakers vs Heat with the Lakers holding HCA (it could happen).
R – Surely you’ve noticed that Henry IS reality!
And yes, it’s a big week for the Heat coming up. That home game against LA will be interesting. Well, hopefully more interesting than the effort we put in on Christmas!
This is where I completely Disagree with you and Zephid Darius.
The Lakers want to be the highest seed they possibly can. 1st in the West is out of reach, but 2nd in the West with a lead over Miami, Chicago, and Orlando (oh and I wish Boston who is only 2 games ahead of Miami) would be a SIGNIFICANT advantage over being 3rd in the West and losing HCA from the 2nd round on.
And it has nothing to do with fans, whether they are weak or strong or whatever. (Dont for a second think that in a Finals game against a Miami, or a 2nd Rd game against a solid Dallas team, that the fans would truly stink).
It has everything to do with OUR bench and the others team bench. Sure Kobe almost always shows up for every game, but at away playoff games over the past few years we have gotten some real stinkers (see games 4-5 last year in Boston) from guys like Brown, Pau, Odom, etc.
The Lakers, in a playoff atmosphere, play much better as a unit at home then on the road. And typically the Other teams bench will not play as well on the road as well.
I think its silly for the Lakers to no try and make a little push at the season closes – I mean, it would be the legitimate first time all season that they did right?
AusPhil – I guess Henry is his own reality.
Yes, our heroes stunk up the joint on Christmas vs the Heat. Let’s hope they try a little harder this next go around!
Oh, by the way, whatever happened to the 72 games Miami was going to win this year?
Chris J says
Here’s the thing about home court — and the Lakers fully understand this fact: you can bust you a– all 82 games to get it, yet it only takes one loss in a series to lose.
Boston basically mailed in two-thirds of the regular season last year, yet after two games in the Finals they found themselves headed home with a chance to win out in Boston and never have to return to L.A. (Thankfully Fish had that huge run late in Game 3, to get HCA back in L.A.’s favor.)
The Lakers know they can win in anyone’s building, and while some routes may be more difficult than others, they seem to understand that a loss here and there in the regular season won’t mean much come playoff time. Seeding is important, but only to an extent.
Memphis is frickin’ starting to scare me with their additions. I hope they get knocked out in the first round because they are loading up. Everyone is out to get us and we need to add someone of some substance quickly. Brewer would have been nice but there was no way to offer him a long term contract. We need Azubuike at least and Barnes back for sure. Too bad no one released a proven big.
dave m says
Predicting western playoff seeding is too byzantine a challenge for me and I don’t have much interest in Luke Walton’s salary which at 5.21 mil is pretty much exactly the league average (5.35) and also equals 1/17th of the Lakers payroll. And even if it’s still too high, I figure it’s offset by Barnes’ 1.75 which is an insane steal and average for guys whose asses are permanently glued to the bench or no longer actually in the league. And as far as wins over the final 20 games goes, yes please – we want as many as possible because that’s how you want to go into the post-season. Winning.
LeBron is super clutch at the beginning of games. He may not be a great closer, but man is he an awesome opener…
To be fair, Kobe had his share of non-clutch moments. LeBron also had his share of clutch moments as well.
But it is funny to have two players whom Abbott would definitely label more clutch than Kobe being on the same team and NEITHER doing much damage in the 4th.
45. It is true Kobe has had his moments of failure in the clutch, but how often are his looks uncontested?
Lebron has had his fair share of wide open looks this season and bricked them.
The only game winner I can recall where Kobe had a wide open shot to seal the game is the Kings buzzer beater 3 last season.
The stats may tell a different story, but the way teams defend Kobe in the clutch shows how feared he is at the end of games.
It’s tricky to try to read the minds of super high performers – for non elite me anyway – but I think Kobe’s just not afraid to fail. And he doesn’t care how he looks trying to win.
It kinda sets him apart.
With about 40 seconds left in that game last night, LeBron was one-on-one on the perimeter against…I think QRich. He gave him a move or two on the left wing, and….passed to Wade on the baseline.
I can’t fault him for that, as it was a good pass, resulted in a (strategically-important 5th, particularly if they pushed it to OT) foul on Howard, but really, a gamer would have just figured out a way to take a good shot himself.
It’s got to be tough, since he is a better passer–in the sense of setting up for an easy shot and assist–than shooter at this point of his career, so he’s going to play the odds. But at a certain point, people are just going to play two feet off him in crunch time and cut off his passing lanes, forcing him to take shots he clearly doesn’t want to take.
The only reason he took that three at the end of the game was because time was running out and there was no time for a pass. I might have been imagining it, but I really think he may have held it for an extra half-second to think about the pass before chucking up that prayer.
Not that I’m complaining about this, a LeBron with a flawed game means an easier-to-beat LeBron, just observing.
Craig W. says
Can people on this blog please stop talking about ‘clutch’ as if it only occurs at the end of games.
I don’t understand the LeBron or the Wade bashing here. Yes, they were found wanting yesterday, and have had trouble closing out good teams. But in the losses, the margin hasn’t been much. If either of them had hit a couple of shots, the result would have been different, as would the analysis.
I don’t think either is afraid to take the last/critical shot – they have made enough of those to not warrant a “choker” reputation.
Just because they haven’t had the kind of success that Kobe has doesn’t make them bad players – because the Kobe bar is set pretty high 🙂
I didn’t call LBJ a choker.
Nor did I call him a bad player.
And, Wade’s one of the best, no doubt.
I just like picking on LBJ because he acts like a 5 year old. It’s cute when the person’s five. Not so cute at age 26.
55. R, sorry was referring to post 49 by harold.
it was just an observation. Lebron gets really really good looks to win games.
Just comparing his degree of difficulty to Kobe. Just mentally flashing through all of Kobe’s buzzer beaters you can see guys contesting his every move and shot attempt.
52. JB Yesterday, I think LBJ rushed his shot actually, after stepping behind the 3 point line, he didnt get his base and feet properly set before releasing. Ideally you do not want your heals to touch the ground, ala Ray Allen, just before you shoot. The step back without the half second to regroup probably caused him come up short .