The Lakers keep on winning — even if it requires them to come from 25 points down on the road against the Hornets (who despite their record have been playing better lately).
But that was only half the equation — the Lakers were always going to need help from one or more of the teams ahead of them. Like from the Golden State Warriors (4 games ahead of Los Angeles), who lost four in a row before turning it around and winning a couple in a row. Or from the Houston Rockets, who have lost three of five and are two games up on the Lakers.
But nobody is helping out like the Utah Jazz, who have dropped five of ix and are now just 1.5 games up on the Lakers.
And when you look at the schedules ahead, the Jazz should be worried.
Utah has 21 games left on their schedule, 11 of them on the road and 12 against current playoff teams. They don’t face the Lakers again — and Utah has the tiebreaker — but they have a tougher schedule from here on out than anyone.
The Lakers have 20 games left split evenly between the road and home, and 10 of them are against current playoff teams. It should be added that the Lakers last seven games are stiffer competition, with five playoff teams on that list. The Lakers want to make up ground now.
It would seem like the Rockets (20 games, 8 on the road and 10 against playoff teams) have an easier path to the postseason. Golden State not only has the largest cushion but also the easiest schedule — 14 of their 20 are at home, with 11 playoff teams in there).
The question of whether any of these teams could beat the Spurs, Thunder or even Clippers is another question entirely (but the answer is no, but none want to work as hard as the Lakers would make them in the first round). But you have to get into the playoffs before we start talking matchups.
The Jazz have been a little unlucky lately (the keep losing close games and they have a positive point differential in their last five despite being 1-4) but they’ve seen their offense dip lately and they need to get it together. Those footsteps are getting very loud and the Lakers have found their stride.
Gordon Hayward dunks on Giannis Antetokounmpo, Thon Maker (videos)
The Lakers took on the salary of Jose Calderon this year so they could get a couple second-round picks from the Bulls (Chicago got him from New York in the Derrick Rose trade), but even with the previous regime in Los Angeles the aging point guard was never part of the future.
Sources told ESPN that it’s not yet a certainty Calderon will secure his release from the Lakers in the coming days, but the sides are indeed discussing the options as Wednesday’s playoff eligibility deadline nears….
Sources say that Calderon, if he winds up hitting the open market, would instantly become a target for both the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets.
Cleveland may also have interest if their plan to land Deron Williams when he is bought out by Dallas goes awry.
Calderon, 35, was not part of the Lakers’ regular rotation, playing in just 24 games. He can still knock down a shot if he has space and can set his feet, and he still has a high hoops IQ and can see the floor, but his athleticism has faded, and that can leave him exposed. Particularly on defense.
Players are being waived now so they clear in time for teams to sign them by March 1, after that said players are not eligible for playoff rosters.
There are better players to hit the waiver wire in the coming days — D-Will, Andrew Bogut, Matt Barnes — but Calderon is going to land somewhere. He’d be a solid third point guard and veteran presence for a playoff run.
Marquese Chriss blocks Bobby Portis, who gets testy (video)
The time off during the All-Star break did Dwyane Wade some good.
The Bulls guard turned back the clock on Friday night, leading the Bulls with 23 points and topping it off with this dunk that proved to be the dagger, sealing a Chicago win. The Suns were convinced Wade was going to run the shot clock way down before making his move and they lollygagged into position — so he just blew past everyone for the poster slam.