When teams lose a star player, there is often this short period where they play a little better without him — everyone else raises their game, the team plays with passion and commitment, and they get a few wins they shouldn’t. Grantland founder Bill Simmons called it the “Ewing effect” after the 1999 Knicks, who lost Patrick Ewing to an Achilles injury but beat a good Pacers squad without him and made it to the NBA finals (where they fell to the Spurs).
The Lakers only need two games of this effect to make the playoffs with Kobe Bryant now out with a torn Achilles. I bet they get it.
The Lakers (behind Kobe , before his injury) came back to beat the Warriors on Friday night, so they remain one game ahead of Utah for the final playoff spot in the West with two games to play. Utah has the tiebreaker, so the Lakers may need to win both games to hold their advantage.
The Lakers can get that if they feed their big men — Kobe provided an outside balance but the hardest part of the Lakers lineup for other teams to matchup with was always Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol on the front line. Get Gasol the ball at the elbow, have Howard out high for some pick-and-rolls and moving off the ball, and the Lakers will get their points.
But let’s be honest – the Lakers playoff road remains a bumpy one.
The Lakers two remaining games are hosting San Antonio on Sunday night and Houston next Wednesday. Utah is on the road — at Minnesota then at Memphis.
The big variable in this schedule is “who will the playoff teams put on the court.” That starts with the Spurs Sunday. Tony Parker returned to action Sunday for San Antonio, a team still in the mix trying to get the top overall seed in the West. The Spurs may well play both Parker and Tim Duncan Sunday against the Lakers because they will need the win. Then again, this is Gregg Popovich, so he might just sit everyone but Matt Bonner. Who knows.
Then the Lakers get the Rockets. This is a bad matchup for the Lakers — the Rockets play at the fastest pace in the league and the Lakers have a horrible transition defense, plus the Lakers are a bad pick-and-roll defensive team and both Jeremy Lin and James Harden run that play well.
The question we will not know until then is “will Houston be playing for anything?” If Houston rolls out their stars because they have a chance to get up to the six seed (and avoid San Antonio or Oklahoma City in the first round) they will play their stars. But they may not have anything to play for and Kevin McHale will empty out his bench for the game.
Utah needs to win both games it has left to have a chance. They should beat Minnesota but the Timberwolves are feisty, particularly at home. Then in the final game they get Memphis and face a similar situation as the Lakers — Memphis is the better team if they play their regular rotations, but if they don’t have anything to play for the Jazz may facing reserves.
Logic suggests the Jazz are looking like the playoff favorites. I just have a feeling the Lakers are going to find their way in. At that point, any Ewing effect will not be enough to save them. But the Lakers get in.