Asked about the possibility of the Lakers overtaking the Spurs for the best record in the West , Phil Jackson said last week that he didn’t even want to consider the possibility until the Lakers had got through their upcoming games against the Nuggets and the Warriors . How right he was ! Yesterday afternoon , the Lakers played a listless , careless game against the Nuggets and paid the price as Denver won 95-90. With only six games to go , the loss dropped the Lakers 2 1/2 games behind the Spurs and all but scotched any ideas of getting home -court advantage throughout the playoffs . Their remaining games are against the Utah Jazz , the Portland TrailBlazers , the Golden State Warriors , the Oklahoma City Thunder ,the San Antonio Spurs and the Sacramento Kings. Other than the Jazz and the KIngs , all these opponents will provide a stiff test and it does not seem possible that the Lakers will make up ground against the Spurs . I don’t think that this is a bad thing for reasons that I will go into later in this post.
For a Laker fan , yesterday’s game was a horror show as the Lakers reverted to their lackadaisical ways. Kobe shot often and poorly ( 10 for 27) , the Nuggets forced 20 turnovers many of lazy inbounds passes, and racked up 24 assists . The Lakers are at their best when the ball is being passed around and the scoring is balanced . That didn’t happen yesterday.I have to marvel at how the Carmelo Anthony trade has dramatically improved the Nuggets . For the price of one disgruntled superstar , the Nuggets acquired two starters , Danilo Galinari and Wilson Chandler, and two important reserves ( Raymond Felton and Timofey Mosygev). With Carmelo no longer there to hog the ball , the scoring has been spread around among the others and they all have to happy about their expanded roles , none more so than Nene . With Carmelo’s departure , the defense has also improved markedly . No wonder George Karl looks so happy now !
During their victory streak , the Lakers have started slowly but dominated the second halves of games . Yesterday, it was the opposite as the Lakers were leading or close for most of the game but fell apart in the last 3 – 1/2 minutes. This was only their second loss in 19 games and perhaps they were a little complacent . I hope they revert to their winning ways because otherwise they will wind up losing the all-important home court advantage to more teams . At present they are only behind San Antonio in the West and Chicago in the East.
The reason I am not too much bothered with yesterday’s loss is that a second place finish gives them an easier path to the finals . If they finish second and the standings remain the same as today , the Lakers will face the New Orleans Hornets in the first round and , probably, the Dallas Mavericks in the conference semi-finals. New Orleans is much weakened by the season – ending injury to David West and the Lakers seem to have the Mavericks number . Had the Lakers finished ahead of San Antonio , they would probably meet the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round and the winner of the Denver Nuggets / Oklahoma City Thunder matchup in the second. The Lakers do not match up well against any of these three teams . In a post two weeks ago , I’d identified the Nuggets and the Thunder as the Lakers biggest hurdles in the West. By finishing second to the Spurs , the Lakers can perhaps avoid meeting any of them .Not a bad thing to happen .