With the Lakers losing to the Warriors Wednesday night, the Spurs clinched the top seed in the Western Conference.
“We knew it wasn’t the end of the world to finish second,” said Manu Ginobili. “At the same time, after the kind of season we had, we wanted it.”
The Lakers are essentially a lock for the second seed with four games left in the season. Currently, they are 4.5 games behind the Spurs and two games ahead of the Mavs. Unless the Lakers lose all their remaining games and Dallas wins of theirs, the playoff race is beginning to clear up.
But not all is lost, the Lakers’ remaining games against San Antonio, Portland, OKC and Sacramento (possibly for the last time) are still vital as they vie for home court advantage in the finals.
Prior to the All-Star break the Spurs looked invincible at 40-8 and the Lakers were a modest 34-15.
Then Kobe discovered the fountain of youth, dropping 37 points in the All-Star game. Ron got his head on straight and the rest of the Lakers used the break to get back on track mentally . Since then the Lakers have looked unstoppable.
Tim Duncan went down with a freak ankle injury, Ginobili injured his quad, as a result the Spurs lost six straight games for the first time in the Duncan era.
Just like that the Lakers were within an arms reach of first place.
In fact, if the Lakers had won their game last Sunday against the Melo-less Nuggets, they would have only been a game back of the top spot. With one more game against the Spurs on the April 12th, they would have been able to dictate their own destiny.
While we can sit around and play the “what if” game all day, we should find a better use of our time and evaluate the positives of finishing in second. Sure, some members of Lakers Nation are pressing the panic button again after the loss to Golden State following two tough losses to Utah and Denver. But if I were to tell you the Lakers would go 17-4 to close out the season, those same fans pressing the panic button would be more than satisfied.
Granted there are no upsets, the Lakers road to the finals would look like this if the the playoffs started today:
Portland, Dallas and San Antonio.
Compare that to if the Lakers finished first:
Memphis, Oklahoma City and San Antonio.
As back to back champs , the opening round should be a formality: Portland always plays tough at home but eventually the Lakers’ size and experience would win out in a seven game series. And Memphis? They haven’t won a playoff game, never mind a series, since emigrating from Vancouver to Memphis.
The second round is where things get interesting. By finishing second, the Lakers dodged a landmine: the upstart Thunder, who should squeak by the surging Nuggets.
I prefer Dallas over Oklahoma City for a myriad of reasons.