After winning on Sunday, the Los Angeles Lakers are only four games back of the seventh seed and three and a half games back of the playoffs. With the Lakers scheduled to play four road games in six days, LA needs to keep racking up wins to remain in striking distance of the final two playoff spots.
Currently, the Utah Jazz hold the inside track with the seventh seed in the Western Conference. Utah has lost three of its last six games, so the Jazz have cooled off since starting 2013 by winning eight of 10 games. The Lakers beat the Jazz when these two teams last met, but there will be no more head-to-head meetings between the two playoff contenders. The Lakers must hope for the Jazz to stumble at some point between now and the finish line.
The Houston Rockets hold the coveted eighth seed at the moment, meaning they hold the final playoffs spot. The Rockets have won five of their last seven games, but they have a testing stretch of games on the horizon. Houston’s next five away games include trips to the Miami Heat, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers and the Brooklyn Nets.
At home, Houston’s next three games are all against winning teams, including the Warriors and the Thunder. The Lakers still have one game remaining against the Rockets -- Houston comes to Staples Center in the Apr. 17 season finale.
Another Western Conference team that is on the outside looking in is Portland. The Trail Blazers are only one game out of the playoffs, and they have won four of their last six games. Portland, however, is scheduled to depart on a tough six-game road trip starting Monday in Minnesota.
The Blazers, much like the Lakers, need to put together some results during an elongated road trip in order to keep up hopes of getting into the top eight.
Even with the Lakers blowing leads and missing Dwight Howard through injury, they are still within striking distance of the postseason. Their improved team play has been impossible to ignore, but the Lakers need to do more than play the right way at this point. They need results.
How the Lakers finish off the final four games of the Grammys road trip should provide insight into whether the Lakers are slowly fading out or gaining stride in the playoffs race.
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