Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 9:00 PM
Heading into Friday Night’s home game against the Golden State Warriors, the Los Angeles Lakers now control their own destiny in the race for the #8 spot in the Western Conference playoff brackets. Wednesday’s win at Portland (their first in a back-to-back spot in eons) kept them one game ahead of Utah in the loss-column. No more losses….hello playoffs!
That’s easier said than done because the last three Lakers games come against Western playoff teams…
Tonight: vs. Golden State (currently #6)
Sunday: vs. San Antonio (battling OKC for #1)
Wednesday: vs. Houston (currently #7)
The good news for the Lakers is that only San Antonio will have any sense of urgency about their game. It’s better to be a #1 seed than a #2 seed because of home court advantage in the Western Finals (if the favorites advance through). Of course, the Spurs are dealing with injuries right now, and weren’t overwhelmed by a sense of urgency in their loss at Denver Wednesday Night.
Golden State and Houston are “battling” for the #6 spot…but that’s really just a pick-your poison situation for who you want to be a big underdog to in the first round. Both have clinched their playoff spots already. There are no easy first round opponents in the West. The Lakers are still fighting for survival, which is a much greater motivator.
Can Kobe Bryant keep going? He’s been superman in recent days…even after hurting his ankle against Atlanta. Also helping the cause:
*Metta World Peace returned much earlier than expected from surgery on a meniscus. This isn’t a team with a lot of depth…and his presence was a big help.
*Pau Gasol has been back for awhile, and is starting to play like Pau of old. That means he’s getting the ball in scoring position and getting it in the hoop. You get the sense that Kobe and Pau have taken over the team themselves on some possessions, ignoring the big picture plans of head coach Mike D’Antoni. This is a GOOD thing for winning because D’Antoni’s strengths as a coach are poorly suited to that roster.
*Dwight is moving much better on defense with the season on the line. He’s still not back to 100%, and may never be given the difficulty of fully recovering from back issues. But, he’s playing like he cares…which means the Lakers at least have a chance to get stops that they weren’t getting in recent weeks.
*Steve Nash’s injury hasn’t been a problem because Kobe has taken over the offense and is playing the whole game. Nash is old, and has been performing that way when on the floor. The defense is a bit better when Nash is out (though it’s still a lot of old guys dealing with injuries!). The offense doesn’t take a hit.
Of course…if you focus too much on the Lakers in tonight’s game you forget about what Golden State brings to the table. Let’s run the matchup through our gauntlet of key indicators…
OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY RANKINGS
Golden State: #10 in the NBA
LA Lakers: #8 in the NBA
Both of these teams are very good offensively. Golden State makes great use of their speed and three-point shooting. The Lakers get the same approximate effect by working for good shots during Kobe Bryant’s incredible resurgence. He by himself has become an efficiency machine this year, lifting a misfit offense all by himself.
DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY RANKINGS
Golden State: #13 in the NBA
LA Lakers: #18 in the NBA
The Lakers have had troubles on this side of the ball all season, at least by playoff standards. They grade out close to league average overall…but that’s not enough to be a playoff danger in this conference. Golden State is probably better than you realized, as the hustle of youthful energy is making up for a lack of physicality.
REBOUND RATE RANKINGS
Golden State: #8 in the NBA
LA Lakers: #8 in the NBA
These teams are tied at eighth best in the league. Golden State does it with a mix of length and speed, while the Lakers do it with height and experience.
Golden State: #5 in the NBA
LA Lakers: #4 in the NBA
Who’d have though these teams would turn out to be so similar in the numbers! Mike D’Antoni wants to run all the time. The Lakers would be #1 in pace if he had his way. The age and health of the team has prevented true racehorse basketball.
WON-LOST RECORDS VS. .500 OR BETTER
Golden State: 17-24
LA Lakers: 14-26
Not far apart here either. And it has to be said that the Lakers are better suited now to win big games than they were much of the year because Howard, Gasol, and World Peace are all on the floor at the same time. This category is probably a wash with tonight’s lineups.
Depends on how much fire Golden State brings…and how much fatigue the Lakers carry playing their third game in four days and fourth game in six days. These teams are pretty even in the big picture. The Lakers have a big edge in motivation, but are at a big disadvantage in terms of potential fatigue. That means INFORMATION is critical! JIM HURLEY has talked with his on-site sources. If you see a release in this game on our final ticket, it’s because of what those sources have reported.
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