Can't question their resolve
The Lakers picked an awful time to swoon last week, losing four of five games to allow the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks back into the race for the eighth and final playoff berth. But as has been their custom, they've since gotten it together and rallied to win their past two games despite missing point guard Steve Nash.
Wins over Sacramento and Dallas do not really amount to much in the scheme of things. But critical wins with your floor general hobbled, the Jazz and Mavericks surging, and the pressure to salvage a playoff spot out of this wreck of a season do mean something. Namely, that the Lakers genuinely care about competing down to the last second for this berth.
It's a dogfight unworthy of their talent, but it's a fight they're still engaged in. Perhaps moreso than ever.
You worry about their schedule. The Lakers still have tough games against the Grizzlies, Spurs, Clippers and Rockets -- all of whom are ahead of them in the Western Conference standings.
You worry about their injuries. Nash is ailing, so is Kobe Bryant. You worry about the Jazz having a tiebreaker in the season series, which basically amounts to a one game edge.
But for once, you don't worry about their resolve and commitment. And that's why, cautiously, I think they'll do just enough to get into the playoffs.
Too much to overcome
I've been back and forth on the question of the Lakers making the playoffs all season. For the record, I had the Lakers winning it all before the season so if you're going to hold me to one terrible preseason prediction, well, there you go.
The reason I didn't think they were going to make it last month is that the No. 8 seed in the West over the past five seasons has averaged 48 wins. There was no way the Lakers were even going to win 45 games this season. I actually had them finishing 42-40, which, in my view, wasn't going to cut it.
Now as we enter the final seven games of the regular season, the Lakers and Jazz are tied in the standings with the Jazz holding the all-important tiebreaker. The Lakers have games coming up against the Grizzlies, Clippers, Warriors, Spurs and Rockets. All five teams are ahead of them in the standings. The Lakers haven't fared well this season when going up against teams ahead of them in the standings and we're not even taking into account that they're also playing a young Hornets team with nothing to lose and have a road trip up to Portland, which has been a house of horrors for the Lakers in the past.
The problem with this brutal finish is the Lakers don't control their own destiny. They have to finish these final seven games with one more win than the Jazz. So if Utah, which has won five straight, finishes the season going just 4-3, the Lakers have to go 5-2. That means beating a couple of teams they normally haven't this season. It seems too much for the Lakers at this point. I think a 42-40 team makes the playoffs this season, but that team won't be the Lakers.