Lakers sabotage playoffs chances
MICHAEL ANGELO B. ASIS Home stand
The Manila Times
THIS is exactly why Lakers fans are complaining about load management. A team is locked in a tight playoff race and a crucial game will push them at the .500 mark for the first time this season. For most teams, this is enough to push the urgency button. But not the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers started the 20222023 season with a five-game losing streak and have never evened out their record. The closest was three games ago, after the win against the Toronto Raptors. Then they lost to the New York Knicks. After celebrating a huge Anthony Davis effort against his former team Pelicans, the Lakers management just decided to rest him against the Houston Rockets. It’s a back-to-back, yes, but LeBron James is already out with an injury and the team needs a victory. This may be a case where the Lakers simply took their opponent for granted and perhaps, sabotaged their playoff chances. The Houston Rockets are the second-worst team in the NBA, true, but they played like there is no tomorrow against the Lakers. However, despite Houston’s obvious tanking strategy and increasing its chances of bagging the number one pick in the 2023 Rookie Draft, the young Rockets, which include our own Jalen Green, would not hesitate to pick up a win even if they have nothing to fight for. Perhaps their pride and ego — these were college and high school stars after all — pushed them to play better. This is another bitter lesson for the Lakers as they enter the 12-game homestretch with a loss. The Lakers can rationalize their choices, as they have a string of home games which include bottom-dwelling teams Orlando Magic, OKC Thunder, and the Chicago Bulls. They start off with Luka and the Mavericks, a team they match up well against. The Lakers are said to have the easiest schedule, but with a ridiculously tight playoff race, the last thing you need is a “happy just to be here” attitude. That loss against the Rockets dropped them back to 10th place. Had they won, they would have been 7th in the Western Conference standings. A four-game win streak, like what the Clippers have, can send the Lakers to 5th place. The Lakers should be able to do this on their five-game home stand, as Phoenix still does not have Kevin Durant. After that home stretch, they have a five-game road trip. The Clippers and fellow playoff aspirant Minnesota Timberwolves are notable opponents here. I suspect they would sideline Davis again against the Clippers since it’s a back-to-back, their last for the season. Hopefully, they can have a playoff seed secured by then. Their last two outings at home are against the tanking Utah Jazz and the Suns, who would still be missing KD by then. Home-court advantage The Milwaukee Bucks are now on a full game-face mode to get homecourt advantage. They actually tanked off the top seed last season to avoid the KD-Kyrie Brooklyn Nets at the 8th seed. They let the Boston Celtics deal with them, but that strategy bit them in the foot after they lost to Boston in Game 7 at the TD Garden. This year, there is no stealthily scary eighth seed as the Nets super team is no more. They are determined to finish first overall this season, and get home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. The bigger key this season is that Khris Middleton is no longer injured and they have role players like Jae Crowder and Joe Ingles. However, the Bucks were demolished by the Indiana Pacers yesterday, a day after they secured the first playoffs berth for the season. Inconsistent Warriors Speaking of home-court advantage, the Golden State Warriors seem to need it throughout the season. The Warriors have the second-best overall home record at 29-7, only one win behind the Denver Nuggets. But on the road, Golden State is at par with the tanking teams at 7-27. It’s like there are two different Warrior teams. If this trend holds in the playoffs, they are likely out in the first round since that dismal road record would prevent them from advancing in the West playoffs. Can Stephen Curry carry this team to another title run? That will be a test to his true greatness. The battle for the fourth to tenth spots in the West, and the positioning between the Bucks and Celtics at the top comprise the interesting storylines for the last three weeks of regular season. Duke demise debunked Oral Roberts University are on a 17game win streak, and that’s partly why pundits predicted them to upset Duke. But Duke is on a nine-game streak of their own against vastly superior opponents. It’s trendy to predict upsets, but those who rode on that trend got their bracket broken. Duke got a 13-0 run and never looked back. The Blue Devils scored a 74-51 victory, easily advancing to the second round.