Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, April 8, 2013 at 10:00 PM
Within the past few weeks, the Los Angeles Lakers have been huge longshots to reach the playoffs…prohibitive favorites to quality for the playoffs…and now find themselves on the wrong end of a coin flip after a loss to the Clippers Sunday was followed by a Utah win at Golden State Sunday Night.
We may be very close to knowing for certain who’s going to earn the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoff brackets. Let’s spend a few moments handicapping the race…so you can make smart choices handicapping individual games involving teams in the chase.
THE RACE FOR EIGHTH
9…LA Lakers 40-37 (0.5 games behind)
10…Dallas 38-39 (2.5 games behind)
We’re including Dallas because they’re still technically alive. But, they’re going to need some help from other teams if they’re going to sneak in and pilfer the spot. The best Dallas can do is sweep its last five games for a 43-39 final record. Utah and the Lakers only have 37 losses heading into these last eight days of action.
It’s very important to note that Utah holds tie-breaker advantages over BOTH the Lakers and Mavericks because of what happened during their regular season series. So, the true distances are actually further than it looks for the teams in Utah’s rearview mirror.
ACCOUNTING FOR TIEBREAKER
8…Utah (ahead with 4 to play)
9…Lakers (1.5 games behind with 5 to play)
10…Dallas (3.5 games behind with 5 to play)
You can see why Utah brought peak intensity to that Sunday Night game at Golden State. It was the linchpin game that arguably swung the race their way. They have the least demanding schedule volume of this final stretch, and are truly in the driver’s seat because of their tie-breaker advantages.
UTAH’S REMAINING GAMES
Tonight: vs. Oklahoma City (home underdog)
Friday: vs. Minnesota (probable win as rested home favorite)
Monday: at Minnesota (rested road favorite)
Wednesday: at Memphis (road dog, but Memphis may not need game)
Tonight’s home game with the Thunder is going to be a tough one. Utah lost at home to Denver last week, and really doesn’t match up well with the league’s elites right now. But, they can afford a loss there because two straight games with Minnesota are coming up. If you pencil in wins vs. the T-wolves, and losses in the other games…the Jazz finish 43-39…which is a tall hurdle for the Lakers to climb…and an impossible one for Dallas to surpass.
Should Utah beat Oklahoma City tonight, the drama may reach an early conclusion.
LA LAKERS’ REMAINING GAMES
Tonight: vs. New Orleans (probable win as home favorite)
Wednesday: at Portland (back-to-back, but are Blazers tanking?)
Friday: vs. Golden State (short home favorite)
Sunday: vs. San Antonio (will Spurs need the game?)
Wednesday: vs. Houston (will Rockets need the game?)
Injuries have taken their toll on this old and shorthanded team. That back-to-back comes at a terrible time…but at least the opponents are manageable. Maybe the Lakers will get some help from the Timberwolves, and maybe everything will break their way in terms of opponents not having any need of a win at tip-off. The margin of error is gone.
DALLAS’ REMAINING GAMES
Wednesday: vs. Phoenix (probable win as rested home favorite)
Friday: vs. Denver (tough game vs. hot team)
Sunday: at New Orleans (short road favorite)
Monday: vs. Memphis (back-to-back, will Memphis need win?)
Wednesday: vs. New Orleans (probable win if Mavs are still alive)
Hey…you never know. That’s four home games in the last five. If Utah chokes…while the Lakers run out of gas (which may have happened in the second quarter of the Clippers game)…the Mavs to have a shot to win out and stun the nation.
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