Lakers Playoff Hopes Hinge on Western Conference Mediocrity

At the risk of getting inundated with angry "SMALL SAMPLE SIZE!!!" comments, it has already become clear that the Los Angeles Lakers aren't making the playoffs without a serious assist from several mid-tier Western Conference teams.

That is no indictment of the Lakers, whose energy, effort and enthusiasm have been genuinely refreshing to behold after last season's slog.

But don't let the 3-4 record (against a brutal opening slate) fool you. Two of those games, including Thursday night's thriller in Houston, were decided on the game's final possession. The Lakers aren't going undefeated in close games—especially without Kobe Bryant, their all-world closer.

Had the ball bounced the wrong way in those tight contests, the Lakers could have been staring at a 1-6 record that would have been worse than last year's disastrous start to the season through seven games.

Point differential is a much more reliable indicator of future performance than won-lost record, and the Lakers look decidedly worse by that measure.

Of the entire league, only the win-less Utah Jazz have a worse scoring margin than the Lakers.

Without Bryant, the offense has cratered, ranking 27th so far in offensive efficiency and scoring nearly 10 points fewer per 100 possessions than they did in 2013.

Los Angeles' path to the playoffs revolves around mediocrity from those around them.

There are five teams in the West who are virtual locks to reach the postseason, despite rocky starts for a couple of them. For all intents and purposes, the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors are in.

There are five more teams, aside from the Lakers, who will be vying for the final two spots. All of them have been projected to finish ahead of the Lakers, yet all of them have fatal flaws which could allow the Lakers to sneak in. <...

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