Los Angeles Lakers: Determining playoff odds through first 20 games

(Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images) /

The first 20 games of the 2018-19 season could be a determining factor into whether or not the Los Angeles Lakers make the postseason.

The Los Angeles Lakers are currently riding the longest playoff-less drought in franchise history They are hoping that LeBron James can help end that streak. One determining factor will be the beginning of the season for Los Angeles.

Two weeks ago, NBA insider John Schuhmann wrote a detailed piece about predicting playoff probability for each NBA team. In his article, he explains that the first 20 games of a season serve as a predictor for whether a team will qualify for the playoffs. Using his analysis, let’s break down the Lakers early schedule to see how they might fare.

Schuhmann notes in his NBA.com article that “how a team does in its first 20 games could determine how the rest of its season plays out”.

He then breaks down the math for each conference using an analysis of the first 20 games for every team from the past 15 NBA seasons. The probability of making the playoffs was determined by teams that qualified in past seasons given their record through 20 games.

In the Western Conference, Schuhmann shows that a team with 12 or more wins has a 92 percent chance of making the postseason. From there, the playoff chances get much bleaker with each additional loss.

A team with 11 wins after 20 games faces a 55 percent chance of making the playoffs. 10 wins equal out to 39 percent odds, followed by nine wins meaning a 38 percent likelihood and eight wins a 25 percent chance. Seven wins through 20 games constituted a seven percent probability, while six or fewer wins meant a zero-percent possibility of making the postseason.

With all these numbers in mind, it’s important to analyze the Lakers early season schedule to understand what their playoff odds truly look like. There has been a lot of speculation out there about the Lakers ability to make the playoffs.

Sportswriters and analysts alike are opining on what will or will not determine the Lakers playoff odds.

People have mentioned youth, experience, chemistry and other factors as being limitations to the Lakers’ playoff hopes. Let’s look at the numbers and Schuhmann’s math to make a more educated guess at their postseason odds.

After studying the Lakers schedule found on NBA.com, it seems their early schedule is favorable for a good start. Of their first 20 games, the Lakers play an even 10 games at home and away, giving them no distinct advantage there.

However, their road schedule appears quite favorable. For their 10 games on the road, their opponents averaged a .494 win percentage based on last season’s records.

Advantageous road games include one game in Cleveland, one in Orlando, one in Sacramento and one in Phoenix. These should be the games the Lakers look towards to steal while on the road against weak opponents.

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In contrast, the Lakers’ 10 games at home include opponents with a higher win percentage of 52.9 percent from last year. They’ll have a tough slate of opponents at home early on, including Houston, Utah and Toronto.

For context, eight of the fourteen different teams the Lakers will play were playoff teams last season. Furthermore, 12 of those 20 games are against those playoff opponents.

While that may sound discouraging at first, note that a good bulk of these games are against teams that are noticeably weaker than their playoff-selves from last season. The 20 game stretch for L.A. includes three games against Portland, two games against the Spurs and one against Cleveland.

It is games like these where the Lakers should win after key offseason losses for each team (Ed Davis and Shabazz Napier, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, and LeBron James, respectively). Therefore, it is reasonable to pencil the Lakers down for at least 10 wins to start the season.

Many will say 10 games is too high. Many will say 10 games is too low. Remember, that with 10 wins out 20 games, the Lakers playoff odds would stand at 39 percent. While that is not encouraging, there were worse teams through 20 games last year that still made the playoffs.

For example, according to Basketball-Reference, the Thunder were 8-12 to start last season. They ended up righting the proverbial ship to qualify for the playoffs.

Marking the Lakers down for a 10-10 record through 20 games is certainly conservative. They could surprise the NBA and outperform that, but they could equally astonish the league with a worse record. With a myriad of issues mentioned earlier (youth, chemistry, experience, etc.), it is hard to predict what this team will look like early on.

In fairness, their performance through 20 games may be one of those outliers in Schuhmann’s data set, much like the Thunder were last year. Many great teams before have struggled early on only to find that they hit their stride as the season goes on (i.e. 2011 Miami Heat).

Expect that to hold true for the Lakers this upcoming season as LeBron leads the team for the first time. Though, if the Lakers begin to smell early season success with a surprising 20 game record, expect the national media to attach themselves to the Lakers’ playoff narrative.

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A return to the playoffs is not far away for the Lakers. And a return to glory for the purple and gold appears close as well.