The Los Angeles Lakers made sweeping changes during the NBA trade deadline and the results have spoken for themselves. Despite dealing with injuries to LeBron James and D’Angelo Russell, LA has put together the second-best record in the West since the trade deadline.
This has shot the Lakers up the Western Conference standings and has suddenly made the playoffs a very real thing. At the time of writing this, the team is firmly in the Play-In Tournament as the ninth seed. They are half a game ahead of the 10th seed and a full game ahead of the 11th seed.
Watching the Lakers climb has been incredible and if the season were to end today, the team would have a chance to extend its season. That is not enough, though, as the Lakers now want to avoid the play-in altogether.
But can they do it? And if so, how high can they truly climb?
NBA playoff picture: Lakers could climb as high as the fifth seed
A realistic ceiling for the Los Angeles Lakers as the season enters its final days is the fifth seed in the Western Conference. As it stands right now, the Lakers are two games behind the fifth-seeded Clippers with one game remaining head-to-head.
While four seeds separate the Lakers and Clippers, the purple and gold can get right on the Clippers’ tail with how congested the West is. Los Angeles is half a game back of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Dallas Mavericks, who are the seventh and eighth seed, respectively. The Warriors are 1.5 games ahead of LA as the sixth seed.
Getting to that sixth seed is the ultimate goal and it will be made easier for LA considering they have the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Warriors. Los Angeles gaining 1.5 games is definitely doable, especially with how LA is playing.
The Lakers are 8-3 since the trade deadline and have 15 games remaining. An 11-4 record would yield a near-identical winning percentage, but just to be modest, let’s assume LA finishes the last 15 games with a 10-5 record. That is more than doable with LA having the third-easiest schedule remaining.
That would put Los Angeles at a final record of 43-39. If the Lakers finish 43-39, they will need the teams in the West around them to finish with these records (or worse) in order to surpass them in the standings:
- Clippers: 6-7
- Warriors: 8-6
- Timberwolves: 9-5
- Mavericks: 9-5
Those are some pretty good records. It seems unlikely that Minnesota and Dallas will finish with better than a 9-5 record with how they are playing. Golden State may end up catching fire and climbing above the Clippers but the Lake Show just needs the Clippers to play sub-.500 basketball down the stretch to have a real shot of passing them.
For what it’s worth, FiveThirtyEight projects the Lakers to finish 42-40 as the seventh seed in the West. That would put LA in the play-in but would give the team the benefit of having two chances to make the playoffs.