Posted by Andrew Shi
As the final weeks of the regular season commence, NBA fans will be closely watching the Lakers and the Utah Jazz as they battle it out for the eighth and final playoff seed. Currently, the Lakers hold the spot but are only a half a game in front of the Jazz. The Lakers have seven games left and the Jazz have six. This could give the Lakers the opportunity to advance their lead over Utah, but the Lakers face a dramatically harsher schedule than the Jazz.
In the next seven games, the Lakers will have to play against the Grizzlies, Clippers, Hornets, Trailblazer, Warriors, Spurs and Rockets, in that order. Of these seven opponents, only two are currently ranked lower than the Lakers: The Hornets and the Trailblazers. Fortunately for the Lakers, all but two of their games are home, and one of those away games is against the Clippers, so they will still play on their own court.
The Lakers have not won a single game against the Spurs, Grizzlies or Clippers this season, which indicates these are three set-in-stone losses. History says they will likely lose to the Rockets, but both of their previous losses to the Rockets were away games. Their lone victory was at home and their next encounter is at home as well. They should be able to easily dispatch the Hornets, and they should be able to overcome the Warriors, who they're 2-1 against.
The Portland Trailblazers, though, is the other away game. The Lakers are 2-1 against them, but the two they won were home and the one they lost was away. Furthermore, their game against the Trailblazers is the second of a back-to-back night. The Lakers this season are 6-10 on back-to-back games, but the ones they've won have been against bottom seed teams and a Dirk-less Mavericks. Of the ones they've lost, one has been to the Trailblazers. It's generous to give the Lakers a 3-4 record for their last seven games, assuming they beat either the Trailblazers or Rockets, but more realistically it will be 2-5, with their two sole wins against the Hornets and the Warriors.
Now, the Jazz in their next six games have three on the road and three at home. Also, three of the games are against higher ranked opponents. The Jazz face the Hornets, Warriors, Thunder, Grizzlies and the Timberwolves twice. This season, the Jazz have gone 2-1 against the Hornets, and 2-0 against the Timberwolves. They are 1-1 against the Warriors, and 1-2 against both the Thunder and the Grizzlies. Against the Warriors, the Jazz won their match at home but lost away. This third game is away as well. A likely record for the Jazz is 3-3, but in their last game against the Grizzlies, depending on the standings, the Grizzlies may rest their better players as is customary for teams that know they are making the playoffs. Add in the fact that the Jazz are battling for a playoff seed and they could very well go 4-2.
In a realistic, best-case scenario for the Lakers, they will go 3-4 and the Jazz will go 3-3. That will leave the Lakers with a record of 42-40 and the Jazz at 42-40. A tie would give the Jazz the playoff berth by virtue of them winning this season's Jazz-Lakers series. It is highly unlikely that the Jazz will finish their last six games with less than three wins. If the Lakers wish to reach the playoffs they will need at least four wins. It's possible, but don't hold your breath.