Lakers second-half schedule: LeBron James’ MVP bid, push for No. 1 seed should benefit from soft early slate
Only six of the Lakers‘ first 21 post-All-Star rivals still have a winning record
On Wednesday, the NBA released its second-half schedule, and the Los Angeles Lakers have one of the five hardest remaining slates based on current winning percentages of opponents. However, it is quite deceiving. Since playing a West-heavy schedule over the first season, 18 of their 31 post-All-Star games will come against the much poorer Eastern Conference, where all that divides the top 5-11 seeds is simply one game in the loss column.
Translation: In the first half of the season, a bunch of bad Eastern Conference teams spent balancing results by playing one another, leaving seven teams with a .500 record in two games. Once those teams start on the West-heavy portion of their schedule, those records will drop precipitously. When that happens, the strength of the remaining schedule of the Lakers on paper will begin to properly illustrate the true challenge of their remaining adversaries.
Here are 36 post-All-Star matchups for the Lakers:
- March 12 vs. Indiana (NBA TV)
- March 15 @ Golden State (ESPN)
- March 16 vs. Minnesota
- March 18 vs. Charlotte (NBA TV)
- March 20 vs. Atlanta
- March 21 @ Phoenix (NBA TV)
- March 23 @ New Orleans (TNT)
- March 25 vs. Philadelphia (TNT)
- March 26 vs. Cleveland
- March 28 vs. Orlando
- March 31 vs. Milwaukee (ESPN)
- April 2 @ Sacramento
- April 4 @ Clippers (ABC)
- April 6 @ Toronto
- April 8 @ Miami (TNT)
- April 10 @ Brooklyn (ABC)
- April 12 @ New York (ESPN)
- April 13 @ Charlotte
- April 15 vs. Boston (TNT)
- April 17 vs. Utah (ESPN)
- April 19 vs. Utah (ESPN)
- April 22 @ Dallas (TNT)
- April 24 @ Dallas (ABC)
- April 26 @ Orlando
- April 28 @ Washington
- April 30 vs. Sacramento (NBA TV)
- May 2 vs. Toronto (NBA TV)
- May 3 vs. Denver (ESPN)
- May 6 @ Clippers (TNT)
- May 7 @ Portland
- May 9 vs. Phoenix (NBA TV)
- May 11 vs. New York
- May 12 vs. Houston
- May 15 vs. Indiana
- May 16 vs. New Orleans
It looks like the Lakers are playing 19 home games and 17 road games over their final 36 at first glance, but two of those ‘road’ games are against the Clippers, so no ride. Take two Sacramento Kings and one Golden State Warriors game and LeBron and Co. will not abandon California for 66 percent of their second-half games (24 of 36).
Also, look at the chance for the Lakers to easily get out of the second-half exit, with just six of their first 21 post-All-Star games being against teams that actually have a winning record. Moreover, for 18 of the first 21 games, Anthony Davis may be back. If his new comeback schedule remains, he will be back on March 18 against the Hornets.
Let’s also talk about the eight back-to-backs in the second half that the Lakers will be facing. That seems a lot but look at the broadcasting names next to that eight consecutive dates (the first half had five of them). Only one back end is on national TV, which gives the chance to relax without any fuss on the LeBron and/or Davis. You will also see that the last 14 days of the season are filled by half of the 8 reverse cases, from 2-3 May (Toronto/Denver) to 16-17 May (Indiana/New Orleans) to end this season.
The blueprint is there to be able to pace their way into the home stretch playoffs, particularly with their final week of home games, if the Lakers can make hay over the inviting opening stretch.
If LeBron wishes to make an MVP push, the soft second-half start is an opportunity to rack up wins, which would be the lifeblood of his campaign if the Lakers can get the No. 1 seed, or at least finish above the Los Angeles Clippers, which they will have every chance to do with four combined games that remain with those teams.
In the second round, it’ll be fun to see how hard the Lakers and Clippers work to stop each other. If today’s playoffs were to begin, that’s where they will compete as 2-3 seeds. If none of them could grab the top spot of the Utah Jazz, one will have to slip to No. 4. (currently the Phoenix Suns). If they lose sight of Utah, could the Lakers maybe use the last back-to-back stretch to, shall we say, unwittingly fall in the standings to exploit their playoff path?
And we’ll see. For now, all we know is that the second-half schedule for the Lakers is not as rough as it seems on a spreadsheet. It’s heavy at the Eastern Meeting, heavy and mild early at home. Look for the MVP campaign by LeBron and the push by the Lakers for a No. 1 seed to get out early after the All-Star break.
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