Lakers News: Midway Through The Season, Can L.A. Make The 2013 Playoffs?

The Los Angeles Lakers have officially reached the midpoint of the 2012-2013 season.

On Monday night, L.A. fell to the Chicago Bulls, 95-83. The loss dropped them to 17-24. It’s the first time this season that they fell to seven games under .500.

With just 41 games remaining, the Lakers are running out of time to turn things around. When the team struggled to start off the year, their poor play was often excused by injuries. Now, the team has all its stars healthy, yet they still can’t win consistently. Los Angeles is just 5-10 since Steve Nash returned from his injury.

Should the Lakers fail to turn things around, they would miss the postseason for only the third time since 1976. They are 14.5 games behind the Los Angeles Clippers in the Pacific Division, and four games behind the Houston Rockets for the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

Do the Lakers still have a chance to make the 2013 playoffs?

L.A. certainly has its work cut out for them. It would be close to impossible for them to catch up to the Clippers in the division. Four games is not an insurmountable lead, but three other teams besides the Rockets stand in the Lakers way of the final playoff spot in the West.

Putting four stars in the starting lineup hasn’t translated into success for L.A. The combination of Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol looks good on paper, but may not be a winning formula.

Defensively, the Lakers have been a mess all season long.

On the perimeter, an aging Bryant and Nash have been unable to keep up with quicker, younger guards. Even in his prime, Nash was considered a below-average defender. In his 17th season, the point guard may be one of the worst in the NBA.

Until this year, Howard was arguably the best defensive player in basketball. However, his three Defensive Player of the Year awards have meant very little this season. He seems to be hampered by the back surgery he underwent in April, and has done little in the way of stopping opponents in the paint.

Mike D’Antoni has never been known as a defensive coach. He was even accused, by New York Knicks big man Amare Stoudemire, of never having taught him how to play defense. Through half the season, there is little evidence to suggest that Los Angeles will improve much on the 101.4 points they allow per game.

The Lakers will likely have to win a lot of high-scoring affairs, in order to make the postseason. They’ve shown that they can put up a lot of points, and are fifth in the league in points per game.

His defense has been lackluster, but Bryant hasn’t had much trouble putting the ball in the basket. His 29.2 points per game average is second only to Kevin Durant. The future Hall of Famer’s individual success, however, hasn’t always led to wins. L.A. is 7-14 in games that Bryant has at least 30 points.

The play of Gasol may end up determining whether or not the Lakers can salvage their season. The seven-footer is in the midst of the worst season of his career. He’s averaging career lows with 12.7 points per game and 43.2 percent field goal shooting.

A big part of Gasol’s struggles may be D’Antoni’s offensive system. The big man thrives in the paint, but the coach’s system is built for a power forward that plays away from the basket. D’Antoni has decided to play Gasol off the bench, but the move may do little to change his impact.

Even if the Lakers are no longer a title contender, they still have a realistic shot of sneaking into the playoffs. Other than the Rockets, the Portland Trail Blazers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Dallas Mavericks also stand in the Lakers way.

L.A. has eight games remaining with those four clubs, and none of them are unbeatable. The Rockets are just one game above .500, and the rest have losing records. If the Lakers win a few games with the teams in front of them, landing the eighth seed is a definite possibility.

Minnesota looks like they are headed in the wrong direction after Kevin Love’s injury. They have lost six of their last seven, and have the same number of wins as L.A. Portland has lost six straight, and has one of the toughest remaining schedules in basketball. Dallas and Houston have been inconsistent all year, and can’t be counted on to finish with a strong record.

Los Angeles, though, has shown no signs that they will finish the season with more wins than losses. They haven’t played well with their current roster, and though trade rumors constantly surround Gasol, a deal in the middle of the season might be too late.

The Lakers have a chance to make the playoffs because the West isn’t as strong as it has been in years past, but it would likely mean a quick exit in the first round.

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