There are 3 games left to be played for the Lakers (42-37), but their work in maintaining their 8th seed status is far from over.
L.A. is a full game ahead of Utah, but the Jazz have a much easier schedule facing Minnesota twice and Memphis on the road. They've only beaten the Grizzlies once at home but are undefeated against the Timberwolves in 2 tries.
Meanwhile, the Lakers have the Golden State Warriors (45-34) tonight, Spurs on Sunday and Rockets next Wednesday. They've only lost to the Warriors once but are 1-4 combined versus San Antonio (0-2) and Houston (1-2).
It's possible that the Jazz could lose to the Grizzlies (or even the T'Wolves in Minneapolis), which would then give the purple and gold the playoff berth. But that is if they win tonight and defeat either Spurs or Rockets.
And no other Laker than Kobe Bryant is more determined in making sure that the Lakers will make the playoffs.
In the last 6 games, Kobe is averaging 45.6 minutes a game...or 2.3 minutes of rest per game if you want to look at it that way. But in their big 113-106 victory in Portland on Wednesday, Bryant made sure he couldn't put the blame on anybody else should they lose by playing the entire game.
Naturally, fatigue has been a bit of a subject for Lakers fans when it comes to Kobe playing in the playoffs should the team do clinch a berth. However, the Lakers can't worry about the playoffs until they're in, and they can't get there without Kobe on the floor. Can't have both.
But if the Lakers win tonight, they will put a lot of pressure on the Jazz to win their remaining 3 games.
The last time the Warriors were in town, the Lakers handed them a 101-77 beating. Bryant was the man of the hour for L.A. that night getting 27 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists. Pau Gasol's numbers weren't shabby themselves with 14 points, 16 boards and 2 blocks.
The biggest difference for the Lakers in that game, however, is their defense forcing Golden State into 18 turnovers and converting those into 22 points.
If the Lakers are to beat this team tonight, they have to put their focus and effort again on the defensive end. Or everything they needed to do but didn't last time they saw this team on the road.
In the 109-103 loss in Oakland, the Lakers allowed 47.8% from the field and 43.5% from distance. Three Warriors scored in the 20+ points range in that game, including 23 points from David Lee.
Preventing both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson from scoring alone is a huge undertaking for any team. But to let an undersized power forward who has no post-up game dominate 2 of the best big men in the game is simply a sin.
But, Gasol has been playing well of late since the Lakers have put the ball in his hands in the post down the stretch. His offense has picked up and, especially, his defense hasn't been this good since who knows when?
Pau is averaging 22.5 points and 2.5 blocks the last 2 games. But against the Warriors, he's only getting 10 points and .7 blocks a game. While his rebounding is a lot better versus this team, he has to score at least 17 points and make sure his defense is the reason why Lee can't do much of anything tonight.
Remember, Pau will be facing Tim Duncan the very next game. If he can't push himself into dominating Lee tonight, how is he going to fair against what a lot of people consider to be the best power forward to ever play the game? It's all about mental and physical preparation for Gasol and the rest of his teammates now before the start of post-season play.
And now that we mentioned Pau, we can't forget about Dwight Howard.
In the previous 3 meetings with Golden State, he is only getting 9.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks an outing. Those numbers are way too low against a team without a legit center. And with Andrew Bogut out with a sprained ankle, Howard has zero excuse not to punish the Warriors in the paint.
This is the 4th and final meeting of the regular season between these teams with the purple and gold looking to win the season series, 3-1. The Lakers haven't lost to the Warriors at Staples Center since March 23, 2008.
Matchup of the Game
Stephen Curry vs. Steve Blake: This is the matchup where the Lakers need to be concerned most about. It's a probably a good thing that they'll have Blake on him defensively, but Steve needs to pay more attention on defense in this game before he worries about his shots. Curry had 18 points and 5 assists at Staples Center in their loss back in November. Team defense should take care of his assists, but Blake needs to make sure Curry doesn't score in the 20s tonight.
Keys to the Game
> Team Defense: The Warriors are the league's top 3-pt. shooting team averaging 40.2% per game. Even with an improved defense and team chemistry, this team lives and dies by the 3. If their defensive rotation is sharp and transition defense is proper, the Lakers should get the W. But that is if they maintain that defensive intensity the entire game.
> Tempo: In the loss at the ORACLE Arena, the Lakers were baited into playing a fast tempo numerous times. Both Blake and Bryant need to make this game a halfcourt affair at all times unless there's an absolute fast-break opportunity. The Warriors have no answer for anyone the Lakers put on the block, so there's no reason for them take early shots or take a jumper before going inside first.
> Fast Start: The quickest way to put the pressure on the visiting team is to go on top of them early. This should also put a bit of cushion for the Lakers should they lose that focus again — which is probably likely. But that only happens if the Lakers run their offense the right way and put on a strong defensive effort.
Watch Out for
WARRIORS: Jarrett Jack: No other Warrior outside of Curry concerns the Lakers more than this guy. He averages 17 points and 5.3 assist per night out of the bench against the Lakers this year — that includes dropping 19 points on 56.3% shooting last time they visited. The Lakers have to defend him tonight!
LAKERS: Kobe Bryant: Bryant will most likely be that one guy every team will need to worry about from here on out. While scoring is never a problem for him against the Warriors (averaging 32.3 points a game), Kobe may need to defer to his teammates a bit tonight, especially after seeing the Warriors do a good job of taking the ball out of his hand in the last game. But don't be surprised if Kobe gets the best of both worlds tonight the way he's been playing out of his mind lately.
vs. Golden State Warriors
Tip-off: 7:30 p.m. (PST)
TV: TWC SportsNet (Southern California)
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/1330 KWKW
WARRIORS: Andrew Bogut (ankle) is not with the team. Brandon Rush (knee) is out.
LAKERS: Devin Ebanks (bone spurs) is probable. Steve Nash (hamstring) is out. Jordan Hill (hip) is out for the season.