The magic number for the Laker's hope for the playoffs is now down to 8.
Well, actually 5 and 12.
After basking in what used to be a solid 2-game lead over the Utah Jazz for the 8th and final seed in the west, the Lakers now see themselves back outside looking in.
The Jazz have won their last 4 games while the purple and gold, as we all have witnessed, gave up 4 of their last 6. That result in a similar record between these 2 teams. But the kicker is the Jazz hold the tie-breaker over the Lakers having taken the season series, 2-1. That puts the Lakers back in the 9th spot.
If they want to steal the 8th spot back, the Lakers can no longer afford to pick and choose which of the final 8 games in the regular season they decide to come and play.
The Jazz have 3 more straight games at home before they round off their remaining schedule with 3 road games and 2 home games. Utah is one of the better teams at home having lost only 9 times out of the 27 games so far. So, the Lakers are looking at possibly 5 games they'll need to match with victories in order to stay in the playoff hunt.
The Lakers only have 2 road games left with one at Staples Center against the Clippers. So technically, they only have 1 true road game left, and it's a good one. They'll go up against the Trailblazers at the Rose Garden — where the Lakers have only won twice in their last 10 visits there. That should give you an idea on how important it is for the purple and gold to win ALL of their remaining home games.
Needless to say that the Lakers better understand what they'll need to do as a team these next 8 games. But Steve Blake and Dwight Howard are the ones who really need to shine in order for the Lakers to keep playing beyond April 17 this season.
With Steve Nash nursing his hip and hamstring, the Lakers can't rely on him to help them get back in the playoff picture — at least not in the next couple of games. But even if Nash turns out fine by the time they meet again with the Clippers on Sunday, the Lakers will need him to be as healthy as possible should they make it to the playoffs.
So Blake have to sort of take over the driver's seat for Nash, especially on defense, from here on out.
He certainly did a solid job against the Kings with 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field, including 5-for-8 from distance. While his offense is a huge plus, it's really his defense that is going to be a key for him and the Lakers in these next few games.
And speaking of defense, Howard has to continue to be pro-active on that end of the floor, also. In the last 3 games, Dwight is averaging a dominant 4.3 blocks per game. He had 5 versus Sacramento on Sunday.
But his job doesn't stop at blocking and altering shots, obviously. Howard has to put it in his mind that no one owns the paint but him. He can't let his free-throws affect how aggressive he needs to be on offense. But at the same time, teams won't stop going to that Hack-a-Dwight unless he starts making them.
The important thing for Dwight to remember though is his domination of the paint is more crucial to the team than his free-throw shooting since that area of his game is much less predictable than his decision to just put forth the effort on the court the entire game.
The Lakers know they have a lot of work ahead of them these next 3 weeks. While the verdict is still out on how they'll fair in the playoffs until we see them play, they stand a better chance at getting there if they just keep plugging away each quarter of every game the rest of the way.
Hopefully, Blake and Howard understand what's at stake more than ever.