A season full of turmoil, head coach firings, injuries to every major player on the roster, and enough media fodder for five seasons has come down to what is essentially a play-in game.
Although the Los Angeles Lakers could find themselves backing into the playoffs by virtue of a Utah Jazz loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, they would almost certainly rather face a banged-up and aging San Antonio Spurs squad instead of an up-tempo Oklahoma City Thinder team that bounced them out of last years playoffs in the Western Conference Semifinals, 4-1.
This year’s Lakers would be fortunate to make it that far at all.
After starting the season a woeful 18-25, L.A. managed to go an impressive 27-12 in their next 39 games, but none of that will matter if they they lose to Houston on Wednesday night. If the Lakers win, they will clinch the 7th seed and earn a matchup with the Spurs. The Lakers Lost the season series to the Spurs, 2-1, with the Lakers winning the final matchup in Los Angeles. The Spurs’ average margin of victory in the season series was 2.5 points. The Lakers’ size presents many problems for San Antonio as well. Furthermore, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol combined for 33 rebounds against the Spurs on Sunday night.
The Thunder on the other hand are a matchup nightmare for Los Angeles. They won the season series against the Lakers, 3-1 by an average margin of 11.3 points. The Lakers won the third meeting against OKC in the only meeting where Kobe, Nash, Howard and Gasol all played. It was also one of Russell Westbrook‘s worst shooting game’s on the year (6-22). The Lakers won’t have a full complement of players against The Thunder no matter what round they face them in should they make the playoffs, thanks to Kobe Bryant‘s torn achilles tendon. The Thunder’s up and down pace and athleticism would wreak havoc on the Lakers. Their ability to score quickly on fast breaks coupled with the Lakers 14.7 turnovers a contest could spell another unceremonious exit for the purple and gold.
How the Lakers match up on paper with their two playoff opponents is one conversation, but the idea that the Lakers may not even make the playoffs is another entirely.
In their history, the Lakers have missed the playoffs only five times and while based in Los Angeles, the number drops to only twice. Many believe that a team this talented not making the post-season, season-long drama aside, would easily be among the greatest sports failures of all-time, joining the ranks of the 18-1 Patriots of 2008, the 2004 USA Men’s Olympic team, and the 2004 Los Angeles Lakers. This team, simply put, was put together to win a championship now, which is why Steve Nash was brought in. Winning now has a lot to do with Los Angeles pulling the trigger and finally bringing Dwight Howard to L.A. after what seemed like an eternity of speculation and media over-analysis. The other issues regarding a Lakers’ offseason that may come sooner than later all revolve around what players to bring back next season.
Pau Gasol’s name is most frequently mentioned among players who would most likely be moved via trade or outright amnestied via the league’s amnesty clause. Recent rumblings have suggested that Lakers’ brass would be wise to do the unthinkable and amnesty Kobe Bryant. While this would be considered an act of treason by most fans, did anyone really think Peyton Manning would be cut by the Indianapolis Colts over a season ago?
Mitch Kupchak recently refuted the idea when asked by a reporter if amnestying Bryant was an option. According to Lakersnation.com, the Lakers GM has no such plans:
“That’s not even something that we’ve discussed,” he said. “That’s the furthest thing from our mind right now.” Although Kobe is owed $30.5 million next season, (the final year of his contract) the likelihood of the Lakers cutting bait is highly unlikely.
One thing is certain, this season has been one to remember for fans, mostly for all the wrong reasons. The Lakers find themselves in another big game Wednesday — effectively their Game 7 — which they have been playing in for months now. A win and they can in many ways start fresh. A clean slate might be just what this team needs.
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