As the race for the 2019 NBA Playoffs heats up, the Los Angeles Lakers look to sneak into the postseason standings, along with the Sacramento Kings who hold similar aspirations. Whilst the likes of the Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs and Utah Jazz look to maintain their positions, to give the playoffs a crack.
No team has an ‘easy’ schedule in the remaining games after the All-Star break. It will most likely go down to consistency and who can pick up wins against the teams around them in the standings. Below, we take a look at the schedules of the teams fighting for playoff contention in the Western Conference.
The Utah Jazz are currently in-amongst a tough part of their schedule. Shortly before the All-Star break they lost to the Golden State Warriors and most recently fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder, both in close fashion. The next 4 games for the Jazz includes the Clippers, as well as the high-flying Nuggets and Bucks.
The schedule does get considerably easier for Utah from then on, as they take on the likes of the Pelicans, Suns, and the Wizards multiple times. The Jazz take on the Lakers twice in the last 8 games of the season. Whilst also facing playoff hopefuls, the Kings and Clippers in that time too.
This is a team that plays hard and are capable of going on long winning streaks. They can battle toe-to-toe with the best, and considering that they do the business against the lesser teams in the league, we expect them to be in the postseason.
San Antonio Spurs:
Currently occupying the 7th seed in the Western Conference, the San Antonio Spurs lost most recently to the Toronto Raptors. The next three games present an opportunity for the Spurs to get back to winning ways, with games against the Knicks, Nets, and Pistons.
The Spurs’ schedule does not look the most difficult on paper, but does present tough games in deuces. To name a few, the Spurs take on the likes of the Thunder and Nuggets, the Trail Blazers and Warriors, the Rockets and Celtics, all in pairs within the final 25 games. Whilst you can never put a Gregg Popovich side down, we suspect that if San Antonio make the playoffs, it’ll probably involve crawling over the finish line.
Los Angeles Clippers:
Holding the final playoff spot, the Los Angeles Clippers are a team that hosts plenty of talent, even having traded away Tobias Harris to the Philadelphia 76ers shortly before the trade deadline. Many expect the Clippers to fall considerably down the rankings, giving up their playoff spot almost instantly. However, it appears that this may not be the case with recent reports suggesting that the team still have firm eyes on making the postseason.
The Clippers do host a relatively difficult next 10 games, taking on a lot of the teams around themselves, including the Jazz, Kings, and Lakers, with the Nuggets, Thunder, and Celtics mixed in there too. Given that they can get through those games relatively unharmed, the team will probably fancy their chances in the mid-part of the remaining schedule against the likes of the Cavs (twice), Knicks, Timberwolves, and Grizzlies (who they have just beaten).
The final 4 games will be the telling point for the Clippers’ postseason aspirations, as they will have to battle against the Rockets, Lakers, Warriors, and Jazz. It looks like it could honestly go either way for the Clippers, it depends whether they stand strong or go on a lengthy losing streak, allowing the Kings and Lakers to capitalise.
Obviously, for the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers to capitalise, they have to take care of business themselves. Easier said than done.
The Kings are currently involved in a tough stretch of their schedule, having lost to the Nuggets before the All-Star break and the Warriors last time out, both games by just 2 points. It doesn’t get any easier for the team, as they travel to Oklahoma next. Shortly after that, they take on the Bucks, Clippers, Celtics (twice), and 76ers.
Sacramento does have the opportunity to rack up the wins against the Bulls, Nets, Mavericks, and the Suns in the following games, before taking on the Lakers on the 25th March. The team finish the season with a reasonable final 4 games against the Cavs, Jazz, Pelicans, Trail Blazers.
The Kings are obviously a young talented bunch with Fox, Bagley III, and Heild, who have proved that they can keep it close against tough opponents. However, 14 of their final 25 games are on the road, and we do expect them to run out of steam. Inexperience may kick in at some point and put the playoffs out of reach. Sacramento do hold the longest playoff drought in the current NBA , having last made the playoffs back in 2006. They would love to make the playoffs over the Lakers, so the motivation will be there, for sure.
Los Angeles Lakers:
It’s not going to be easy for the Los Angeles Lakers to make the postseason. Currently, the team are 3 games behind the playoff spots, and according to Tankathon.com, the Lakers have the ninth-toughest remaining schedule with opponents averaging a .520 win percentage. 16 of the final 25 games of the season are against teams in playoff spots across the two conferences, 13 of the games are on the road also.
With a huge win against the Houston Rockets, spirits were raised instantly. The Lakers do need to keep the momentum going as they face the Pelicans (twice), Grizzlies, Bucks, and Suns in the next 5 games. This presents an opportunity to close the gap on the playoff places as early as March 3rd, given that they pick up wins.
Over the remainder of the schedule, the Lakers have to tackle many high-flyers including; the Nuggets, Thunder, Raptors, Bucks (again), Warriors, and Trail Blazers, as well as the Celtics, Jazz, and Clippers (twice) being sandwiched in amongst. The last five games of the season look horrific for Laker fans, as the team faces the Thunder, Warriors, Clippers, Jazz, and Trail Blazers in a row.
LeBron James has made the NBA Finals for the past eight straight seasons, and now he faces uncertainty whether his Lakers team will even make the playoffs. The last time James missed the playoffs was in the 2004/05 season with the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, if the team can rediscover the form that they had before James got injured, they could very well rise to the challenge and make the postseason, against the odds.
By Matt Evans (@mattyyyevans)