why the lakers will win the pacific division

in all the talk about the relative strength of the top five or six or seven teams in the west right now, one thing’s been left out of the discussion that makes the lakers the top bet to win the pacific division regular season title…strength of schedule (remaining). the lakers, as of today (monday feb 11) standing at 33-17, have already played the majority of the games against the toughest teams on their schedule…far more than any other west contender.

consider: the lakers have already played each of the top eastern teams twice, with no more left for the season. if you’re keeping score, that’s boston (losing twice), detroit (split), and orlando (split)…they’ve also finished up with cleveland (losing twice). out west, they’ve played san antonio three of the four times they’ll see them (losing two of three), phoenix three of four (winning two of three), utah three of four (winning twice), and new orleans two of four (split). the only top team they still have more games left with than they’ve played so far is dallas, with whom they’ve completed one of four meetings this year (a loss). in fact, if you take the losses against those 9 teams (boston, detroit, orlando, cleveland, phoenix, san antonio, utah, new orleans, and dallas), they account for 12 of the lakers 17 losses against 8 wins, leaving the lake show 25-5 against the rest of the league. they’ve got seven games left the rest of the way against those nine top teams…

correction (2-13-08): the numbers posted above are in error…the lakers have eight games remaining with the top western and eastern teams listed, not seven…the remaining games are phoenix (1), new orleans (2), dallas (3), san antonio (1), utah (1), boston (0), detroit (0), orlando (0), cleveland (0)…my apologies…

compare that to phoenix for example, two games ahead of the lakers in the loss column, who still have to play boston twice, detroit twice, san antonio twice, dallas twice, new orleans once, the lakers once, and utah once…that’s eleven games against the top teams, compared to the eight the lakers have to play…that two game margin in the loss column suddenly doesn’t look so daunting…

oh, wait, you say, what about the exploding, self-imploding cigar known as the denver nuggets…i left them out…quite right…well, here’s the tally…the lakers have zero games left against the rocks, having won all three of their meetings, while the suns still must face them three times, if that worries you (it shouldn’t).

the schedule story looks about the same for the other west powers…games against the top three in the east plus cleveland, and the top seven in the west (phoenix, new orleans, dallas, san antonio, lakers, utah, denver) look like this:

games remaining to play against top powers:

phoenix (14), new orleans (14), dallas (13), san antonio (15), lakers (8), utah (12), denver (12)

update (12:50 am PST 2/13/08) – the analysis above sparked gts at insidehoops to analyze the skedj of the top 9 west teams, comparing how many more times they’ll play each other…you can read it here. however, he claims that i’ve left opponents out of the lakers count that i included in the count for other teams…i checked it a couple of times and i don’t think so (see correction above, however…apparently i did miscount by one)…anyhow, it’s a choose your bias kind of call, since though he includes two more west teams (gs, hou), he leaves out the leastern powers, incl. boston and detroit who are at least the equal of any team in the west…of course, i’ve included orlando and cleveland in the count, and it’s a fair argument that gs and houston are in their class (hell, portland too, probably)…that said, i don’t see either gs or houston taking the conf, though either one is, i think, equal to denver in degree of difficulty. i included denver in the final count because they had fewer than 20 losses when i wrote it, which was the cutoff i used to determine the top west teams…i agree, though, that denver’s not any stronger than either gs or houston (sry nug fans…no disrespect, it just is what it is) though all are strong teams playing well…anyhow, check him out…the two takes together create a pretty good snapshot of the situation…there are a whole bunch of different ways to count it up, but if you just scan the schedules of the top teams, it jumps out at you, however you want to tally it…the question of *how much* of an advantage the lakers have does depend on your perceptions of who is truly strong, but the lakers look good any way you look at it…doesn’t mean they’ll win, but you have to like their chances…

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23 responses to “why the lakers will win the pacific division

  1. The thing about strenngth of schedule is that it really doesn’t matter. Eventually everyone plays everyone an equal number of times. This isn’t college football where strength of schedule is a real concern. Everyone gets their opportunities for easy wins and the opportunity for having their asses handed to them. All in all, I think they may win the pacific because they’re playing fairly well, and will likely continue to get better the more they play together, not because they have less playoff worthy opponets.

  2. Precicely why I’ve touted the Lakers as the best team in the West so far this year. They have a very respectable record despite playing the toughest schedule by far.

    Before the Pau trade, I figured the Lakes could tread water at .500 during Bynums absense and still make the playoffs and make the conference semis at the very least, but with Pau filling in the void, were looking at the top 1 or 2 seed in the West with only perhaps Utah to contend with.

    I’m curious to see how well the Lakes play Utah now that they have picked their defensive intensity up and acquired Korver. I like LA’s chances before, but Utah has come along way since the beginning of the season.

    Come playoff time, LA should only have to worry about Utah, San Antonio, and Dallas and they have a real shot at making the Finals this year, though I’d hold off on any real championship expectations for next season, where given time to meld and some injury luck they would threaten the regular season win’s record…

    Its a great time to be a Lakers fan, especially if you’ve rolled with them during the rebuilding years.

    E

  3. Good article. This actually has info that I didn’t already know. It’s not just the same ol’ Kobe and Pau are Studs junk.

    I now firmly believe that the Lakers will win the west. I am left wondering if this easy schedule down the stretch will allow them to catch Boston or Detroit for home court advantage in the finals.

  4. So we can say our Lakers have the worse part of this journey behind them, and now we have Gasol. I just hope Ariza returns to bring some defensive spark, and Bynum to make or break in the playoffs.

  5. Excellent point! The Lakers really have played arguably the toughest schedule of any team in the league (certainly top 3), so that bodes very well for their stretch run and not so well for the rest of the elite.

    GO LAKERS !!!

  6. Good stuff. You’re being added to my feedreader. This happens very infrequently.

    Couldn’t agree more about the Nuggets by the way. That is the most overrated team in the NBA. They don’t scare me one little bit.

  7. Also, if I”m not mistaken, the Lakers have played a pretty heavy road schedule up to this point, and have more home games than away games remaining for the season. That never hurts.

  8. Another big advantage that you didn’t mention is that they don’t leave the Pacific Time Zone after their March 20th game against Utah that finishes their last real road trip (NO, Hou, Dal, Utah, with a day off between each game).

    For their remaining 14 games, 11 are at Staples (10 home, 1 ‘road’ game v Clippers), and the other 3 are at Golden State, Sacramento, and Portland.

    Bynum should be back right around March 21st or so, and having such an unbalanced home schedule down the stretch should be a big boost in getting him ready for the playoffs.

    Add the return of Ariza, plus even possibly Mihm, and you have the deepest team in the league that could be heading into the playoffs on a 16-4 or better run in their last 20 games.

    55-57 wins should be reachable this season (for 57, they’d have to go 23-8 the rest of the way), that may or may not be enough for the one seed in the Western Conference (NO or Dallas could reach a similar number), but as you suggest, it should be enough to hold off Phoenix (53-55 wins is probably their max) or Golden State (they’ll struggle to get to 50) and win the Pacific Division.

    Couldn’t have dreamed of this happening at the beginning of the season (OK, being a big Laker fan, I probably dreamt it, but didn’t really believe it).

    You know David Stern is dreaming of a Lakers-Celtics finals (which is still a long, long way away from happening).

  9. I strongly believed just Kobe & Bynum could have reached the NBA finals atleast in the Western Conference and the addition of Gasol makes it a blowout. With the schedule in favor of Lakers, hey! Kobe getting his fourth ring. With everybody healthy, Lakers are going to rule the NBA for atleast 3yrs. Go Lakers!

  10. The Lakers benefitted from the schedule, as they’ve faced top teams without their top players early on. Of course, the Lakers have never been at full strength this season as well, unless you count Kwame-instead-of-Pau as full strength.

    Anyway, it seems that the #1 seed is attainable in theory… wow.

  11. I truly believe that the Lakers stand to show the NBA world what it means to be called “Showtime”, come playoff season. There truly is a God.

  12. The important and key game is on Feb. 20 when they play Phoenix Suns. This is a must win for them and if they do win, I believe they will definitely number in the PACIFIC division.

  13. Can’t wait for Drew to come back and do his thing again. Seems like an eternitiy without the big fella. Go purple and gold.

  14. Good analysis but I think if you are going to include Orlando (32-21), Cleveland (29-22) and Denver (32-19) in the list, you should definitely include Houston (31-20) and Golden State (31-20) too.

    That is even without taking into account that East teams by default will have an easier schedule.

    That would make it 10 for the Lakers and 19(!!!) for the Suns, as they have 3 games left with Golden State and 2 games left with Houston. (For some reasons the Rockets play the Lakers only 3 times this season while the Suns 4 times).

  15. dion makes great points about houston (rising) and GS (a team i love to watch, though i don’t think webber is going to help them at all and might even mess them up a bit)…and i do think that portland and toronto aren’t cupcakes either…it’s just that you have to draw the line somewhere or you end up writing a book and not a post…but i’m glad you commented dion, because you’re quite right

  16. Dustin,

    Dude, do you even understand the argument? First of all, every team DOESN’T play every other team the same number of times (see if you can make that work with the number of teams in the NBA and 82 games in a season). Second, even if they did, the point isn’t where they end up, it’s comparing their relative records right now, at this moment, and suggesting that the Suns’ record isn’t as impressive as the Lakers’ record. Since they haven’t played the same teams so far, it’s a completely valid point to make.

  17. Haven’t looked at this whole picture, but the Lakers do have an extremely tough final month

  18. Strength of schedule DOES matter. Why? Because it shows how LA still has a great record despite playing some of the hardest teams. Only a few back behind Phoenix and LA has had a much tougher schedule. When Phoenix starts playing the harder teams, they’ll most likely lose a few and the Lakers will most likely win against the sub .500 teams they”ll play. And not to mention LA is 5-1 with Gasol now in the lineup (6-0 without the lazy collapse against the Hawks).

  19. Wow, if everyone is healthy and come playoff time we should see a scary lineup of:

    Fisher/Farmar
    Kobe/Vujacic/Karl
    Odom/Ariza/Walton
    Gasol/Radmonovic/Turiaf
    Bynum/Mbenga/Mihm

    Holy Sh!t!

  20. The Lakers don’t have a gimme sched. the rest of the way. But compared to Phx and others it is absolutely more favorable.

    Before ‘the trip’, we all thought the Lakers had no chance to finish at the top. and were worried of possible elimination.

    All things have changed.

    And if you can trust the bloggers, even the Suns forums are feeling the Lakers will take the Pacific.

    With all the turmoil in October and now this?

    Unballievaball !!

  21. You’re over thinking it. All the Lakers have to do to win the Pacific is motivate Kobe and keep him healthy. He is still the most dominate single creature in the NBA.

  22. Lakers will not be denied! Bynum and Gasol and better defenders, younger, sexier, than Shaq and Stoudamire or … now that I think about it, thats the only two who have a chance to stop my Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.. Unless San Antonio pulls another out of the crust.. but they have never won back to back titles and they don’t need to… The Lakes are hungry and come playoffs you will see a determined Kobe who will rally the troops and visit Boston in the Finals!! Put your money on it!!

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