Let's throw out last night's game, because Kobe Bryant didn't play and Phil Jackson ran a late-game isolation play for Derek Fisher because of that. It ultimately doesn't matter.â†µ
What does matter, though, is that the Lakers have not been a very good team for a while now. This is no pre-playoff lull, this is an extended trend. Since the All-Star break, the Lakers are just 14-9 (14-10 if you count last night's game) overall and 4-6 against playoff teams. As NBA.com's John Schuhmann points out, they're just eighth in the West and 15th in the league at efficiency differential (+1.2), i.e. the difference between the points a team scores and the points a team allows per 100 possessions.
Since the break, the Lakers have had the 17th best offense in the league, scoring just 104.8 points per 100 possessions. That's worse than the league average over that stretch, as well as teams like Chicago (which lost 10 straight at one point) and New York. Defense has been the Lakers' strength all season, but they've been just the 12th best defense in the league since the break.â†µ
Point differential matters a ton - six of the last 12 champions also led the league in point differential. Right now, the Lakers are tied for fourth with San Antonio, behind Orlando, Cleveland and Utah. And yet, because they are the defending champs, they will be seen as the favorite. Don't fall into that trap.â†µ
The Lakers could win it all, of course, and they can take solace in the fact that they were only first in point differential for one of their four championships this decade. But they could also lose very, very early in the playoffs. Both are equally likely.