Lakers: Can LA Realistically Make the Playoffs This Season?

Nov 6, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton during the first half of a NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 6, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton during the first half of a NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

The Lakers are clearly motivated under head coach Luke Walton, and that may just make LA playoff bound for the first time since 2013

Even though it’s still very early in the NBA season, the Los Angeles Lakers have been a pleasant surprise by winning four of their first eight games under new head coach Luke Walton. Although the Lakers have consistently made the playoffs throughout the franchise’s illustrious history, LA has struggled extremely in the last three seasons.

With the official retirement of Lakers’ legend Kobe Bryant after 20 years of excellence, LA is now attempting to return to their winning ways with a young core that includes D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Brandon Ingram.

While few expected the Purple and Gold to make the playoffs this season, the rejuvenated team is playing with a newfound excitement that wasn’t seen under former head coaches Mike D’Antoni and Byron Scott. Despite a small sample size, Walton’s Lakers are currently 9th in offensive efficiency and 16th in defensive efficiency.

Though it is important to not get carried away and recognize that this is still a very young squad who will experience many highs and lows, LA may have a chance at making the playoffs this season as odd as that may sound.

However, the Lakers are unfortunately in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, so they have to win upwards of 40 games to be one of top eight teams in the West.

In order to assess how likely it is for LA to reach the postseason, let’s indicate which teams in the West are almost guaranteed to make the playoffs. The Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies should make the postseason as long as there aren’t any drastic injuries for either team.

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The Portland Trailblazers, Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz are all going to challenge the Purple and Gold for the final three spots. For some reason, the Dallas Mavericks are struggling to start this season off, which opens up a spot for a new team to reach the playoffs.

Ultimately, the Lakers have their work cut out for them, but with a young and enthusiastic group that has clearly embraced Walton’s new culture, LA may exceed expectations and perhaps make the postseason.

If this were the Trailblazers with superstar LaMarcus Aldridge, the Rockets suddenly regain their success from two seasons ago and the Mavericks go back to playing like last season, then the Western Conference would already be set and the Lakers’ playoff hopes would most likely be a pipe dream.

But the final three spots in the NBA’s more competitive conference is now wide open, so the storied franchise can potentially make the playoffs if their defense stays up to par and the young core continues to develop.

The Lakers haven’t made the playoffs since the 2013 season—the year where the Black Mamba willed his team to the seventh seed in a late season push that ultimately ended with Bryant rupturing his Achilles tendon.

The fact that it has took the Purple and Gold four years to even come close to reaching the postseason reflects quite badly on team ownership—primarily Jim Buss. LA made the mistake of going after unattainable superstars like Carmelo Anthony, and they failed to impress Aldridge in a meeting in the 2015 offseason. As a result, the Lakers have been unable to build a playoff team.

However, this offseason the Lakers made the right choice by going after mid-tier free agents and signing legit NBA starters in Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov. Therefore, the storied franchise may actually catch that 8th seed when this season is all said and done.

Next: Takeaways from LA's Disappointing Loss to the Mavs

But even if they fall just short and finish 9th or 10th, LA would still appear much more attractive to free agents this summer than if they won a paltry 20 games like they have in the past three unpromising seasons.