You might say the Lakers are doing well: thriving when it matters, winning pivotal match-ups against Western Conference foes, and (fighting) for the best regular season record in the NBA.
Kobe and the Lakers, now three and a half games behind the Western Conference leading San Antonio Spurs and two games in front of the timid Dallas Mavericks, find themselves in a precarious situation:
Let the foot off the gas and Los Angeles might fall victim to the third seed. Pony up in order to catch the plummeting Spurs (losers of their last five games) and risk fatigue going into the playoffs, which begin on April 16th.
What does Lakers Nation think? Is the number one overall seed (as well as home court advantage throughout the NBA Playoffs) that important? Can the Lakers risk a Mavericks surge back into the 2nd seed in the Western Conference?
For now, let’s take a look at other factors that might influence the Lakers’ choice:
Phil Jackson and the Lakers are rather healthy when compared to their competition in the upper echelon of the west. The only Lakers injured player on the injury report is Devin Ebanks, who has been out since March 4th with a stress fracture in his left leg.
The Spurs, at one-point, seemed to be falling apart (riddled with old-age if you will): Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan, and Antonio McDyess make up the injury report. Parker (knee) and Ginobili (quad) returned to the Spurs’ lineup Thursday night. Duncan also returned Thursday from an ankle injury, which sidelined him for five games.
The Mavericks are healthy on paper, but after the royal shellacking that took place at the Staples Center last Thursday night, they might need some time to recover (the Lakers defeated Dallas 110-82).
Future injury might be the key factor in this debate. Injury-prone Andrew Bynum’s new found confidence has him playing the best basketball of his young career. Truth is, significant injuries are unavoidable; unless Phil and company plan to wrap Bynum in bubble wrap anytime soon.
The remaining schedule for the Lakers is so intriguing because of an April 12th match-up against the San Antonio Spurs in Los Angeles. Bynum and the Lakers won their previous match against the Spurs 99-83 in large part due to Bynum’s success on the boards–he picked up 17.
I can’t imagine the Lakers (the hottest team in the NBA) letting off the gas anytime soon–especially with first place just an arms-length away. Timing for Los Angeles could be a reason as the ninth ranked team in points allowed per game (95.2) is finally clicking on the defensive end. The Lakers have held 11 of their last 15 opponents to under 90 points.
In addition, Kobe was averaging 34 points in their last four games before the losses to Denver and Utah; I’m not too worried about Kobe’s ability to turn the light-switch on, but there’s no need to unnecessarily break his rhythm.
Of the Lakers’ last six games, they’ll play three teams who are playoff locks for the Western Conference. If the rest of the league was unaware of Los Angeles’ astounding month of March, this final stretch could make them, well, aware.