After coming out of the All-Star break on an extended 17-1 burst, the Lakers (55-22) have floated back down to Earth, losing consecutive home games to Denver and Utah to put the San Antonio Spurs (59-19) all but out of reach with five games to play.
Neither Phil Jackson nor any of his players were willing to fully admit to a focus upon catching the Spurs, who led L.A. by a season-high nine games heading into the All-Star break. The margin slipped to 1.5 games prior to Sunday afternoon’s Lakers loss to the Nuggets due to a six-game S.A. losing streak coinciding with L.A. sandwiching streaks of eight and nine wins around a lone loss at Miami on March 10, but has grown back to 3.5.
Indeed, three games separate the two teams in the loss column with five to play for L.A. and four for the Spurs, meaning San Antonio would not only need to lose to the Lakers on April 12, but also drop a minimum of two games vs. Sacramento, vs. Utah and at Phoenix. Unlikely as that is, if the Lakers win their final five games and finish with the same record as the Spurs, the Lakers would in fact own the tiebreaker since that potential situation would give L.A. a better record in its division and conference.
While securing home court advantage against the Spurs out West is a long shot, the Lakers are still two games up in the loss column on third-seeded Dallas (53-24), losers of three straight. In reality, L.A. in more like three games up on the Mavericks thanks to being the Pacific division winner, while the Mavs will come in second to the Spurs in the Southwest. Winning a division while matching records with a team not winning their own is the first tiebreaker, even before the next, head-to-head, which was also won by the Lakers (2-1).
Western Conference Leaders Remaining Schedules:
1) Spurs: vs. Kings, vs. Jazz, @ Lakers, @ Suns
2) Lakers: @ Warriors, @ Blazers, vs. Thunder, vs. Spurs, @ Kings
3) Mavericks: vs. Nuggets, vs. Clippers, vs. Suns, @ Rockets, vs. Hornets
That’s not the only race upon which the Lakers are keeping an eye, as three Eastern Conference teams are going at it themselves, each of the six teams with at least a spare thought on what might happen were they to reach the finals. As it stands, the Lakers would hold the tiebreaker advantage over Boston (54-23), but not Chicago (57-20) or Miami (54-23).
Eastern Conference Leaders Remaining Schedules:
1) Chicago: vs. Boston, @ Cleveland, @ Orlando, @ New York, vs. New Jersey
2) Boston: @ Chicago, vs. Washington, @ Miami, @ Washington, vs. New York
3) Miami: vs. Milwaukee, vs. Charlotte, vs. Boston, @ Atlanta, @ Toronto
The Heat get their tiebreaker on the Lakers thanks to a 2-0 regular season sweep, while Chicago has a better record against the opposing conference (23-7), the next tiebreaker. Boston, on the other hand, went 19-11 against the West, just worse than L.A.’s 21-9 in the East.
The beauty of all of this? It can change daily, starting with L.A.’s Wednesday game at Golden State.