Lakers’ Competition for the Elusive Western Conference Eighth Seed

dwight kobeI will admit I wrote most of this article prior to the Lakers’ wins over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday and the Hornets on Tuesday. I thought I had the tone and feel of the article all set up. I thought I was going to have to write about the Lakers’ abysmal chances of actually reaching the playoffs. I thought I was going to have to endure countless comments about how I must be either dumb or living in some alternate reality to still believe in this team. But with one game – one single game – I think the majority of people will now agree with me: the Lakers still have a shot.

I may be optimistic but I promise I’m not delusional. I’m not going to predict a Cinderella season where the Lakers take the title. Would I like to see that? Yes. Can I advocate that with good conscience? No. The Lakers will be a bottom seed in the playoffs, and may just make the cut by the skin of their teeth due to an unbelievably stacked Western Conference, but they will make it and these are the teams they are going to have to fight to do it;

Houston Rockets

The Rockets covet the number eight spot in the West currently. They are second in points per game coupled with worst defense in the NBA. Translation: it can only be up from here for them. As their defense improves, so will their record. This giving up about as many points as they score can’t keep up. They will figure it out sooner or later. They have the makings of a great team, Jeremy Lin, while maybe not the ‘Linsane’ player we all hyped him up to be, yes, myself included, is still proving a pretty legit reputation as a point guard. He adds solid assists, averaging six a game, with 5.89 of them going to James Harden (okay that was made up).

That brings me to the fact this team is led by Harden who has taken the reins and given his track record coming off the bench and winning Sixth Man of the Year in Oklahoma City, has a shorter learning curve than most. Statistically, he is only behind Kobe Bryant for best shooting guard in the league as well as making the All-Star reserve team, averaging 25.9 points a game. Center Omer Asik continues to develop. He was a solid steal from the Chicago Bulls, averaging 11 rebounds a game, which is nearly double his previous career average. He is throwing in about 10 points a game as well with a staggering 61.5 percent from the field in his past four games which should he keep up, would put him behind only Tyson Chandler whose season average is .674.

However, Asik has an only slighter better free throw percentage than Dwight Howard, so there’s that. As these guys get more cohesive the Rockets could go from on the cusp to playoff powerhouse come April- this all depending, like the Lakers, on their defensive development. The Rockets killed, and I mean killed the New York Knicks back in November behind 14 rebounds from Asik and nine assists from Harden with a final score of 131-103. They had an explosive surge of offense with 31 points from Chandler Parsons, who may just be the most under-rated and off-the-radar player in the NBA. 103 points is a lot to give up in one game though.

You can’t think the Rockets can put up 131 on a regular basis. Glimpses of defense have been seen as they held the Detroit Pistons to 82, the least amount of points they have allowed this season. However, it was a low scoring game period with a score of 96-82 and probably has something to do with the fact the Pistons just aren’t that good. The last half of February and early March will bring trouble with nine of 12 games being on the road during that stretch. I pray that’s when they fall behind and relinquish their hold on the number eight spot.

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Dallas Mavericks

They are 19-25 and in their own downward spiral with Dirk Nowitzki not knowing which way is up. They are the Lakers most direct competition, holding the same record. With equally pompous a-holes of owners that may have let their stubbornness ruin their respective teams seasons (I’m talking about Mark Cuban and Jim Buss, not Dr. Jerry of course) then again even if that’s the case they would be too stubborn to admit it. That’s as far as I’ll go. That’s a whole different topic. O.J. Mayo is playing only slightly better than he did with the Memphis Grizzlies, due to slightly increased minutes. It’s not like the Grizz care, they are sitting comfortably in the number four spot behind the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and LA Clippers.

Between the decreased minutes/production of Nowitzki and Cuban blowing up every social medium he can think of to give Dirk a kick in the pants I would be willing to bet the Mavs are probably worse off than our purple and gold. They are middle of the pack in every way, except again, for defense. They rank 27th in points allowed with 102.9 and only 10th in points per game with 100.2. I’m no mathematician but if you give up 103 points in a game but only score 100 I believe that results in a loss. As miserably average as this team is they manage to stay on par with the Lakers, which is why they make this list.

Their record up until this point has made zero sense other than the fact they have lost to the Spurs every time they’ve played them. They won against Grizzlies, won at the Rockets, but lost to the Pistons and Charlotte Bobcats. Well guess what? The Spurs aren’t going away, which I’m hoping will contribute to their demise. They are home virtually the whole month of February, only major road challenges left are at Memphis,  at San Antonio, and at Oklahoma City. But realistically, barring a complete meltdown you can bet they are unfortunately going to hover around that eighth spot in the Western Conference.

Next Page: Portland, Houston & More

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