Maybe Kobe Bryant had reason to be confident. Entering play Tuesday night the Lakers are the nine seed in the West, 3 games back of 8 seed Houston and 3.5 back of the 7 seed Jazz. Lakers fans look at those numbers and think, “we can make that up.”
But it’s not going to be that easy.
The Rockets have won 6 of their last 10 (same as the Lakers, who have won 11 of their last 15) and are on pace to win 45 games. Same with the Jazz — a team that did not trade Paul Millsap or Al Jefferson at the deadline and is not a team that is going to fall off the cliff and come back to the Lakers (they have won 13 of their last 20). Los Angeles is going to have to earn it — they would need to go 17-7 the rest of the way to get to 45 wins.
But that is crude math.
Over at the invaluable Basketball-Reference they use a probability model that takes into account strength of schedule by playing out the remainder of the season 1,000 times. And still things don’t look all that good for the Lakers.
The Rockets have the easiest schedule in the NBA the rest of the way and so B-R says they should go 15-9 the rest of the way, or finish with 46 wins. That gives them a 96.4 percent chance of making the playoffs.
The Jazz have a tougher schedule the rest of the way and they are more likely the team the Lakers should target. Still, the Jazz are a solid team that B-R has going 12-13 the rest of the way, or finishing with 43 wins.
So the Lakers would have to go 16-8 the rest of the way — win two thirds of their games — to best that mark. Can they? They have the fifth easiest schedule here on out.
Anything is possible but B-R says they would only make the playoffs 27.2 percent of the time In fact, it has them finishing at .500 — 41-41. A couple games short.
There are other models out there. As Ben Golliver noted at Sports Illustrated. ESPN’s projections (using now Memphis front office guy John Hollinger’s model) give the Lakers a 33.5 percent chance of making the playoffs. That’s one in three.
It’s this simple — the Lakers have gone 11-5 in their last 16 and they are going to have to maintain close to that pace the rest of the way — with half their games against likely playoff teams and half on the road — to squeeze past the Jazz or Rockets.
It’s certainly not impossible. But I also wouldn’t go bet the rent money on it.
If I were a Jazz fan I wouldn’t breathe easy, but it is better to be the guy in front being chased than the team desperate to make up ground.