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.

Magic Johnson: “The only player that we… would probably not move is Brandon Ingram”

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The Lakers’ Brandon Ingram had flashes, but he largely struggled through his rookie season. He averaged 9.4 points per game, shot 40 percent from the floor, he had a true shooting percentage of 47.4 and a PER of 8.5, and he finished with the fifth worst “value over replacement player” number in the NBA. Watch him play, and he looked better than those numbers — he did better with the “eye test” — showing some tenacity, and his offense improved toward the end of the season. Still, his rookie season tempered expectations somewhat.

Except amongst the Lakers’ front office.

They have been high on him all the way through, higher than D'Angelo Russell, and that’s what Lakers president Magic Johnson said on ESPN Radio in Los Angeles.

“I would say probably the only player that we would say, hey, we would probably not move is Brandon Ingram,” Johnson, the Lakers president of basketball operations said Thursday in a radio interview with ESPN Los Angeles. “I think that we’re excited about Brandon, his length, his size, his agility, his athleticism. And then when you think about, you know, he was a baby coming in, in his first year last season and we see that he really has a high ceiling and we’re excited about what he can possibly turn into.”

First off, no this doesn’t mean if the Lakers draft Lonzo Ball No. 2 (as expected) they will look to trade Russell. Expect them to see if those two can play together. It means the Lakers think just one of the guys on the roster is a potential key piece of a contender. Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and on down the line may fit into the rotation, but they are not seen as cornerstone pieces that can’t be moved.

Is Ingram really a cornerstone? The jury is still out, but does anyone feel as confident he will be a star as they did a season ago when he was drafted?

Ingram certainly needs to get stronger, something the team and he have worked on (and will focus on this summer). He also was young coming into the league, and with his style of game it was going to take him a little time to find how he fit in the NBA. He wasn’t going to come in and just overwhelm opponents with athleticism, it was going to be a process for him. Like nearly every rookie, his shooting needs to be more consistent.

The questions are how high is his ceiling, and can the Lakers develop him?

This summer and into next season those will come into focus more, but the early returns don’t have some of us as optimistic as Magic.

Josh McRoberts opting into final year of Heat contract

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Heat power forward Josh McRoberts has missed 165 games over the last three years due to injury.

So, the 30-year-old sure isn’t turning down a guaranteed $6,021,175 salary.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

Any long shot chance of Josh McRoberts voiding his Heat contract was eliminated Tuesday when agent Mike Conley told The Miami Herald that McRoberts will exercise his opt-in and return to the Heat for $6.021 million next season.

Miami will have major cap space this summer with Chris Bosh coming off the books. At this point, McRoberts’ salary is just an impediment to even more room to add an impact player.

The Heat could again try trading McRoberts, but they’ll likely have to attach a positive asset just to dump him. They could also waive and stretch him.

But if his salary doesn’t come between Miami and a big-time free agent this summer, perhaps McRoberts returns for one last chance at helping the Heat on the floor with his passing and outside shooting.

Mike Brown thinks it’s “cute” Tyronn Lue thinks Celtics’ sets harder to defend than Warriors

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Celtics’ coach Brad Steven is already one of the best in the NBA. His out of time out plays are brilliant, and his Boston team’s flow of ball and player movement is among the best in the league.

It’s those things that were giving the Cavaliers trouble in the first half of Game 4 Tuesday, and ultimately prompted this comment from Tyronn Lue.

“We’re just focused on Boston. The stuff they’re running, it’s harder to defend than Golden State’s [offense] for me.”

Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle asked Mike Brown about that.

You can certainly make the case that the Celtics have a wider variety in their offense, and that with Isaiah Thomas out the rather balanced, anyone can score nature of the Celtics is challenging to defend for a team with inconsistent help defense like the Cavaliers.

But Boston is running these sets with Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown and Kelly Olynyk. Golden State will use ball and player movement to create space for Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Which is to say, Golden State is tougher to defend because the space they need to make you pay is much smaller. And even if you do everything right the Warriors may just score anyway.

I get what Lue was trying to say, but don’t give the Warriors more motivation.

Magic sending Raptors draft pick as compensation for hiring Jeff Weltman

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The Raptors promoted Jeff Weltman, still working under Masai Ujiri, to general manager last year.

That paid off for Toronto when the Magic hired Weltman as their new president.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The Magic have their own and the Lakers’ second-round picks next year. Even the lower of those two selections could be somewhat value.

In other words, Weltman’s already-difficult job is getting even harder simply by Orlando hiring him.