NOTE: Download the newest podcast by clicking here. Has MWP played his final game in purple and gold? How hard is it to play with Kobe when the team is losing? Are the Lakers fried mentally? Plus beards, and the ultimate in first world problems.
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For the Lakers — sporting an identical 37-36 record as Utah but behind thanks to the tie-breaker — to grab the Western Conference's final playoff seed, they have to win one more game down the stretch than the Jazz. It won't be easy. We know the L.A. has a tough slog over the final nine games. How does each team's slate match up?
Lakers: @SAC, vs. DAL, vs. MEM, @LAC, vs. NOH, @POR, vs. GSW, vs. SAS, vs. HOU.
Jazz: vs. BRK, vs. POR, vs. DEN, vs. NOH, @GSW, vs. OKC, vs. MIN, @MIN, @MEM.
Both have six home games, though L.A. only has to board two more airplanes after tonight's game in Sacramento. Then again, it's worth noting Utah is 26-9 at home. Both see a healthy dose of contending teams. The Lakers do have one back-to-back remaining (New Orleans and Portland). Utah has none. You could break it down six ways from Sunday trying to determine which is tougher. I'll save some time and say they're basically comparable.
It's Saturday, we've all got things to do.
Friday night, sitting in with the TWC Sportsnet gang, we were asked to predict how the Lakers would fare over their final nine games. Trying to think optimistically, I still had trouble landing at 4-5. Given their physical condition, with Metta World Peace's knee injury tearing a massive hole in an already suspect defense, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash limping, and the team looking beat down mentally, it's hard to be optimistic. If I'm right, the Lakers likely go home early.
For me to be wrong, a few things need to happen. Tuesday's game glows radioactive on the importance meter. Not only are the Lakers chasing Utah, they can also be caught by Dallas. Beating the Mavs at Staples is critical to doing the former and preventing the latter. But the three most important games on the schedule are Sacramento, New Orleans, and Portland, the final three sub-.500 squads on the schedule.* The Lakers, winners of two games this year against the W.C.'s top five seeds, aren't going to run the table against the six other teams they'll play. Losing to any of the three lottery squads means staying ahead of Utah — remember, tie goes to the Jazz — gets salt mine brutal.**
With that in mind, it's reasonable to say the season, whatever the value, hangs in the balance tonight in Sacramento. It may not be true in the most literal sense, but it's damn close.
*I'm graduating Dallas into the competent team category, based on how they've played to get back in the postseason derby.
**There's an argument that the more humane thing for the Lakers this season would be to go home early. It's something AK, a die-hard fan, has been wondering for a little while, now. Does rooting for them just prolong their suffering? We discuss in the new show linked above.