Just a week before the end of the season, the Los Angeles Lakers are in sole possession of eighth place in the West. Finally, a team that once boasted championship aspirations has control of its own playoff destiny, four games away from the end of the season.
Needing to make one final run to avoid a draft lottery fate, the Lakers kick off the final week of the regular season with a road match-up against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.
Portland has lost eight games in a row, its worst skid in years.
So, what's the bad news, you might ask? Los Angeles can't really afford to lose again this season. And assuming it can get by a struggling Blazers club, the team's final three games come against playoff squads -- Golden State, San Antonio and Houston.
The ball may be in the Lakers' court, but these final games will be a true test of whether the team has really figured anything out this season.
And while the Blazers have struggling badly in recent weeks, few arenas bring the noise like the one in Portland. Since the beginning of the Kobe Bryant era, Los Angeles is just 6-25 in games at the Rose Garden, an incredible figure considering the franchise's success in that time frame.
That history will be no excuse Wednesday night with so much on the line, though.
Considering the difficulty of the Lakers' remaining schedule, and the need to win the No. 8 seed outright given that Utah holds the tiebreaker, a loss in Portland could potentially spell doom for L.A.'s playoff hopes.
Add to those facts the likelihood that Portland will be without Nicolas Batum, J.J. Hickson and Wesley Matthews, as Blazer's Edge points out, and this should really be a game that L.A. handles with ease. However, even an easy win Wednesday only puts the Lakers one step closer to the playoffs.
Some of this depends on what Utah does. If the Jazz lose their remaining three games of the season, L.A. needs just one more win to clinch. However, two of Utah's final three games come against the struggling Timberwolves. Assuming the Jazz can wrangle away two wins in their final three games, L.A. will need to go 3-1 to avoid the lottery.
Getting a win Wednesday night will be key to making that happen.