Despite playing one of the easier schedules in the league in March–not counting the incredibly difficult four-game road trip–the Lakers finished out the month on a down note, losing games at home to lowly Charlotte and Memphis. For L.A., a season of injuries finally appeared to catch up to them, with newcomer Pau Gasol leaving with injury mid-way through the month. Although finishing with home court advantage in at least the First Round is certainly a priority for the Lakers are they head into April, getting healthy before the playoffs is arguably even more important. Lakers.com breaks down the team’s schedule for the home stretch:
The Lakers start out the month with home games against Portland and Dallas, beginning this Wednesday, April 2. The Blazers have been a tough matchup for L.A. all year long, with the Blazers winning the last matchup at the Rose Garden 119-111 at the end of February. The Lakers toppled them three days prior to that, 96-83.
Next up for L.A. is a home rematch against a Dallas Mavericks squad that will no doubt come out swinging with their once solidified playoff spot now in serious jeopardy after losing Dirk Nowitzki indefinitely (4/4). The Lakers were impressive in their last meeting, pummeling the Mavs on the road despite missing two bigs of its own in Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Less than three weeks before that, the Lakers reigned victorious over Dallas again, after Jason Kidd missed a critical free throw in overtime that would have tied the game.
Two days later, L.A. heads up north to face the rival Sacramento Kings (4/6) looking for revenge after the Kings stole one on the Lakers’ home floor after a late make by guard Beno Udrih. The Lakers won their last game at Arco Arena in early March, using a late rally to overtake the Kings in the final four minutes of the game.
After a day off, the Lakers fly up even further north to face the Blazers for the fourth and final time (4/8). Although Portland will most likely be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention by that point, the talented group of youngsters could prove to be major spoiler threats in the Western Conference as the season winds down.
Next up for L.A. are the inner-city rival Los Angeles Clippers–a team that the Lakers have defeated in each of their three meetings this season after splitting the season series last year (4/10). Similar to Portland, the Clips could play a hand in how the final standings shake out in the West, especially if injured forward Elton Brand successfully returns this season.
After the “road” game versus the Clippers, the conference-leading New Orleans Hornets come into STAPLES Center for the second time this season (4/11), looking for victory and a chance to solidify their surprising season with a win that will likely go a long way toward determining both team’s playoff positioning.
Although the Lakers have Saturday off in between games, their next opponent–the defending champion Spurs–will not offer the Lakers any breaks (4/13). The last time the Lakers faced the Spurs at home, they only won by five points despite San Antonio missing Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. The Spurs currently lead the season series two games to one and with both teams so close in the standings, there is a good chance that head-to-head matchup could play a big role with only one game left after the tilt with San Antonio.
The Lakers finish off the season by facing a pesky Sacramento squad for the final time at home (3/15). This game could either end up being really important for the L.A. if the standings in the West go down to the final day of the season, or it could be a perfect chance to rest the starters before the playoffs begin.
With Dallas reeling, the Lakers only have two “big” games on the schedule for April against the Hornets and Spurs, but they will certainly be played with playoff-level intensity. However, assuming the purple and gold finally gets healthy and does not overlook teams like Portland and Sacramento, the Lakers should coast into the playoffs with a final month record of no worse than 6-3.