clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Here’s why LeBron James’ Lakers are almost certainly missing the NBA Playoffs

New, comments

The situation is incredibly dire. We really won’t have a playoffs with LeBron James.

Los Angeles Clippers v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers’ playoff chances aren’t mathematically zero, but they’re grim. As of March 5, LA trails the No. 8 seed San Antonio Spurs by 5.5 games with just 18 left to play. There’s less than six weeks for LeBron James and his teammates to figure out their defensive flaws and get a crack at postseason play.

That’s both statistically and realistically improbable. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives the Lakers less than a one percent chance of playing postseason ball, which is 1.2 percent lower than the odds it gives the New Orleans Pelicans.

Late February and March have done no favors for the Lakers. LA has chucked away four of its last seven games to lottery teams, including the Hawks, Grizzlies, Anthony Davis-less Pelicans, and league-worst Suns. Now, after a loss to the crosstown rival Clippers, they are basically done.

Let’s review where we stand.

The bottom of the Western Conference looks like this

The loss to the Clippers was the final nail in the coffin

Beating the Clippers would’ve obviously put the Lakers one full game closer to striking distance. But a win was also essential in the event of a tiebreaker. NBA playoff tie-breakers are broken first by head-to-head record, and second, by record against the team’s own division.

But with a 113-105 loss, the Lakers will lose the season tiebreaker with the Clippers by way of either head-to-head matchup or division record. L.A. can only tie the season series at two, and have no chance of matching L.A.’s 11-3 division record.

In other words: their deficit is really more like 6.5 games when you account for tiebreakers.

How else can the Lakers sneak into the playoffs?

Technically it’s possible, but only technically. It’s too far off to get into the weeds, but LA will need to catch up to the Kings and Spurs should the Clippers pull ahead.

The Kings have a relatively easy finish to their schedule. With 19 games left, they’ll play the Knicks, Mavericks twice, Wizards, Bulls, Suns, Pelicans, and Cavaliers. That’s eight games against teams unlikely to make the postseason. They’ll also play the Lakers once, with the season tiebreaker on the line.

The Spurs schedule is a bit tougher, and the team has admitted this won’t be a title-contending year already by buying out Pau Gasol’s contract and letting him walk to the Milwaukee Bucks. They have easy games against the Hawks, Knicks, Mavericks twice, Cavs twice, and Wizards, but also play the Warriors, Rockets, Celtics, and Bucks.

San Antonio, however, has already won the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Lakers, so its lead is really an extra game more than it appears.

The Lakers remaining schedule looks like this

  • March 6 - vs. Nuggets
  • March 9 - vs. Celtics
  • March 12 - @ Bulls
  • March 14 - @ Raptors
  • March 15 - @ Pistons
  • March 17 - @ Knicks
  • March 19 - @ Bucks
  • March 22 - vs. Nets
  • March 24 - vs. Kings
  • March 26 - vs. Wizards
  • March 27 - @ Jazz
  • March 29 - vs. Hornets
  • March 31 - @ Pelicans
  • April 2 - @ Thunder
  • April 4 - vs. Warriors
  • April 5 - @ Clippers
  • April 7 - vs. Jazz
  • April 9 - vs. Trail Blazers

Those 18 games include just four against teams unlikely to factor in the playoff chase, and just three if you put the Wizards in the East mix. Against that schedule, they must make up six games, plus a tiebreaker over their top two contenders.

It’s technically possible, but in reality, the chase is over.