The Los Angeles Lakers have officially reached the home stretch of their season. With only 17 games remaining on their docket, the team has recently showed genuine promise as they have won six of their last eight since the All-Star break.
The two losses in that stretch were both a result of fourth quarter implosions, as the team held leads in the final frame in both contests. The teams’ current late game execution issues can be hypothetically chalked up to being shorthanded, still trying to figure out how integrate a player of Isiah Thomas’ style, or simply a young team still learning how to close out games in the NBA.
Despite the reasons behind the deficiency, the narrative will be one that will be continue to be tested as the team is about to face the wrath, and fury, that is the Western Conference.
Among the Lakers’ final 17 games, 13 are against teams either currently seeded in playoff spots or those trying to claw themselves in. Of those 13, 12 will be against teams from the all of a sudden tight knit Western Conference.
A few things to note from the current standings, the current number four seed, the New Orleans Pelicans, are only separated from the No. 10 seed Utah Jazz by 2.5 games. Also, the 5-7 seeds have nearly identical records, and the 8-10 seeds are currently tied in the games back column. This is the definition of chaos.
The Lakers have huge spoiler potential and will be a pivotal difference maker when it comes to deciding which teams gets in, but they also have a chance to make a last-ditch effort playoff push themselves, as they have seven games remaining against teams directly in front of them and are currently 6.5 games back of the No. 8 seed.
However, this young team could be in jeopardy of losing a handful of games down the stretch, succumbing to the playoff-type atmosphere of these games, of which, the team has recently shown to struggle in.
The Lakers’ previous loss on the road to Denver was a perfect example of the types of games fans should expect from this team going forward. They will be facing opponents with their playoff lives on the line, and will expectantly buckle down in crunch time defensively.
According to teamrankings.com, the Lakers are currently No. 26 in the league in fourth quarter point differential and have been outscored in the final frame by an average of 8 point in their last three games (1-2 in that stretch and beat the Magic by only 1 point).
This worrisome trend is not a recipe for sustainable success in these last 17 games, but if they can somehow figure out a fourth quarter lineup either through health, or creativity, that gives them a decisive winning probability, then expect this team to break a lot of other team’s hearts.