Will we be seeing Kobe Bryant in the post season?
Despite the notion of the Los Angeles Lakers being absent from the play-offs being dismissed all season long, the possibility is becoming more real with each passing game.
On Sunday night, the Lakers fell to their LA rivals the Clippers, with the latter clinching a season sweep and the Pacific Division title too.
Hours later, the Utah Jazz overcame the Golden State Warriors, as they again emerged as the favourites for the eighth and final play-off spot in the Western Conference.
The two ball clubs have both lost 37 games this season, but as well as having won one game more, the Jazz have the head-to-head record with the Lakers in their favour. Their play-off fate is now very much in their own hands, with just four games to go of the regular season only they can surrender eighth spot.
They face arguably their toughest test on Tuesday night, when the Western Conference title chasing Oklahoma City Thunder arrive in Salt Lake City. Over in Los Angeles, the Lakers play host to the New Orleans Hornets, a game in which they should be favourites to win.
The pressure will firmly be on Mike D’Antoni, Bryant and Dwight Howard to name but a few, yet things could all change once more following Tuesday night’s results.
Utah will potentially have more confidence thereafter, as they prepare for back-to-back clashes with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Jazz have won both previous meetings already this season, including a double-digits victory on home court. In addition, the Timberwolves have no hope of joining the post season party so with little to play for Jazz Coach Tyrone Corbin will be optimistic about his team’s chances.
The season ends with a trip to Memphis to face the Grizzlies, who lead the season series 2-1, but Utah will take heart from the fact they won the last meeting in March. It is undoubtedly a tough run-in, but knowing the prize at stake, the Jazz will certainly be displaying all their fighting spirit.
The Lakers meanwhile, have a far more trickier final stretch of their regular season. Following on from the clash with the Hornets, they face a Portland Trail Blazers side out of play-off contention but who remain a dangerous outfit.
Should D’Antoni’s men pass that test, their last three games will define them and provide the answer to the question everyone is asking. Aside from the visit of the Western Conference leaders San Antonio Spurs sandwiched in between, they face two direct rivals huddled together in sixth and seventh in the West.
First up are the Golden State Warriors on Friday 12, whom they lead 2-1 after three. The Lakers fans know that Bryant will turn up every night, but their main issue is injuries. With Metta World Peace and Steve Nash amongst the absentees, they will need big performances from the ‘Black Mamba’ and Dwight Howard from now until the last minute of the season.
The regular season concludes against the Houston Rockets, who along with the Warriors could have sealed their place in the play-offs by tip-off. The Lakers have lost the last two meetings, but did win the other encounter at the Staples Center. With four of their last five games at home, they will need to draw on the famous Lakers support for inspiration if it comes down to the wire.
Oklahoma City Thunder – Tuesday 9
Minnesota Timberwolves – Friday 12
@ Minnesota Timberwolves – Monday 15
@ Memphis Grizzlies – Wednesday 17
Los Angeles Lakers
New Orleans Hornets – Tuesday 9
@ Portland Trail Blazers – Wednesday 10
Golden State Warriors – Friday 12
San Antonio Spurs – Sunday 15
Houston Rockets – Wednesday 17