The 2012-2013 NBA season is over 70 percent complete, and the Los Angele Lakers are still chasing the No. 8 spot for a place in the Western Conference Playoffs.
L.A. has been on the outside of the postseason picture for the entire year. They haven’t been over .500 the entire season and are in danger of missing the playoff for the first time since 2005. At 29-30, the Lakers are two games out of the final playoff spot.
What are the chances that Los Angeles can come back and continue playing after the regular season?
Two teams in particular stand in the way of Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and company making a serious run. The Lakers appear to have already surpassed the Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks, who seem to be falling out of contention.
The Houston Rockets are currently in possession of the final playoff spot. Unfortunately for the Lakers, the Rockets have the easiest remaining scheduled in the West. Houston’s opponents have a combined winning percentage of just 47 percent, and 21 of their final 29 games are against teams that will be in the draft lottery.
Through 59 games, the Rockets have been fairly consistent, and haven’t shown any signs that they will collapse in the next few weeks. James Harden has proven to be one of the elite players in the league, and free agent additions like Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik have helped make them a formidable presence in the West.
The Rockets have beaten Los Angeles in two of their three meetings this year, but the final contest between the two could be extremely important. The Lakers are set to host the Rockets in the final game of the season. If L.A. can make up the two-game deficit by then, the Lakers will control their own playoff destiny.
If the Lakers can’t get by Houston, they still have a chance to surpass the Utah Jazz. The Jazz have the seventh-best record in the conference, but they sit just a half-game ahead of the Rockets.
Unlike Houston, Utah’s schedule isn’t so easy. Their remaining opponents have won 52 percent of their games, giving Utah the 10th most difficult remaining schedule in the NBA.
The Jazz and Lakers won’t face each other for the rest of the season. Like Houston, Utah holds the tiebreaker over L.A., holding a 2-1 record against them this year.
The Lakers have been inconsistent for most of the season, but they could be in the midst of turning their season round. While they haven’t proven that they can play like one of the league’s better teams for an extended period of time, they have won four out of their last five games, and nine of their last 13.
Since the All-Star Game, Howard has improved, grabbing at least 12 rebounds in each game and shooting 63 percent from the field. The center had not looked to be completely recovered from back surgery for much of the season, and may finally be rounding into form. General manager Mitch Kupchak recent told USA Today’s Sam Amick that Howard came back to soon, and wasn’t expected to take the court until December or January.
The Lakers are also without Pau Gasol, who could return before the season ends. Adding him into the lineup could help swing that final few games of the season. Forward Jordan Hill may return if the Lakers go deep into the playoffs.
The Lakers have the 19th most difficult remaining schedule in the NBA, still have one of the best odds to win the championship. The online betting Web site Bovada.lv put the Lakers odds of winning the title at 18/1.
Only the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers have better odds.