What are the odds the Lakers catch the Jazz, make playoffs?

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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.

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.