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Lakers Down the Home Stretch

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It’s been said for a long time, but it bears repeating. The NBA Western Conference is really tough.

If the Denver Nuggets win two of their last three and the Golden State Warriors win out their final three games, then it would be the first time in NBA history that a 50-win team would miss the playoffs. The unfortunate recipient of that dubious record would be the Warriors.

But let’s get to the Lakers.

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With last night’s 107-104 victory against the Hornets, the Lakers have clinched the Pacific Division and are in second place in the conference behind the Hornets. If the Hornets falter against the Dallas Mavericks and Lakers sweep, the two teams end up tied with the Lakers winning the tie-breaker.

The Lakers played an extraordinary first half against the Hornets making MVP candidate Chris Paul merely an assister and knocking down all of their shots. The Lakers led by as much as 30 points in the second quarter, but the Hornets went on a run at the end of the half to cut the deficit to 20.

What is worrisome about the Lakers is when the opponent starts to make a push they come apart at the seams offensively. The offense starts to get away from pushing the ball into the paint to draw the defenders in and just settles for contested perimeter shots. For a team that's never consistent on the defensive end, that is not a good way of maintaining a lead.

Of course that is what happened in the second half which saw the Hornets cut down the lead to just one point. But the Lakers kept their composure to get the three point victory.

So this leaves the Lakers with games against the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday and the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday. Most important for the Lakers is winning the game against the Spurs to tie the season series but have the advantage in conference record. That would guarantee the Lakers would get the #2 seed in the playoff and avoid the Phoenix Suns in the first round.

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In the background of all of this hubbub is the fact that neither Andrew Bynum nor Trevor Ariza are ready for the playoffs. With Bynum still not allowed to participate in contact drills, his hopeful start for Sunday's game is scratched. Ariza meanwhile had CT scans done that showed the broken bone in his right foot is still not healed. So going into the playoffs, no Bynum, no Ariza.

Looking at the Lakers and the Western Conference, there is no way to tell who could make it to the Finals. With the exception of Dallas and Denver, it is possible for the other six teams to face either the Boston Celtics or Detroit Pistons in the Finals. It's a crapshoot, but it's not because of weaknesses in the conference. The West is truly the best.

But last night, it was great watching the soon-to-be-crowned MVP Kobe Bryant and coach of the year Bryant Scott to be on the same court fighting for #1.

AP Photo by Chris Carlson