Losses Tuesday and Wednesday against inferior competition have been costly for the Lakers, not just in terms of scuttling any chance to catch the Spurs at the top of the Western Conference or the Bulls back East- San Antonio wrapped up the number one seed last night, and Chicago would have to lose their five remaining games for the Lakers to have a shot- but in solidifying no worse than a third seed overall heading into the playoffs.
Boston and Miami are nipping at purple and gold heels.Kyle Terada/US Presswire
Three straight losses have taken the shine of what was an incredible post-All-Star run for Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. What happened to all the smiles?
The Celtics have 23 losses, same as the Lakers, though L.A. holds the tiebreaker by virtue of a better record against the opposing conference. Miami has 24, following a similarly inexcusable loss of their own Wednesday night at home to Milwaukee, but holds the tiebreaker over the Lakers by virtue of a 2-0 season series sweep. The Heat need only to catch the Lakers to earn a better seed.
Obviously this is significant stuff. Any more backsliding, and the Lakers could cede much of the advantage gained after the break. Every E.C. team they fall behind makes playing a potential Finals series as the road team more likely, something history sees as a very bad thing.
As the final week of the regular season arrives, here's how the schedules break down:
Lakers (four games remaining): Friday at Portland, Sunday vs. OKC, Tuesday vs. San Antonio, Wednesday at Sacramento.
Celtics (five games): Tonight at Chicago, Friday vs. Washington, Sunday at Miami, Monday at Washington, Wednesday vs. New York.
Miami (four games): Friday vs. Charlotte, Sunday vs. Boston, Monday at Atlanta, Wednesday at Toronto.
Unless the NBA suddenly allows ties, obviously Miami and Boston can't both go undefeated down the stretch. This makes it tougher, though not impossible, for both the Heat and the Celtics to finish ahead of L.A.. Boston, with games against the Bulls and Miami, seems likely drop at least one game. Nor can the season-ending game with the hot-again Knicks, battling Philadelphia for the E.C.'s sixth seed, be considered a gimme. Miami has Boston, plus two lottery teams and a Hawks squad locked into the fifth spot. An easier road, for sure.
The Lakers draw a highly motivated Portland team Friday, then a tough battle against the Thunder Sunday evening. San Antonio will likely be in full rest mode by the time Tuesday's game rolls around, but context makes the season-ender against the Kings a wild card. How will fans and the team react to what could very well be the last NBA game Sacramento will ever see?
L.A. controls its own destiny. A 4-0 finish basically locks them into a three seed. 3-1 might do the trick, depending on the result of the Heat/Celtics game. 2-2 kicks the door wide open and lays out a welcome mat so either Boston or Miami can wipe their feet before stepping inside.
One last potential wrinkle: Sunday's game against the Thunder is potentially huge not only for what it does for L.A.'s place on the seeding ladder, but for who they could draw down the road. Oklahoma City has only one more loss than the slumping Mavs, and hold the tiebreaker with Dallas (division winner vs. non-division winner). Should the Lakers lose to OKC, the odds of seeing them in the second round, as opposed to the Western Conference Finals or not at all, increase.
As I wrote earlier in the week, there's still a lot left to play for.