Some teams tank for the NBA Lottery in their final 25 games. Others coast into the playoffs contently. Only a few can pull off a run this deep into season that can change their playoff fortunes â€” even get them into the playoffs. These are the 5 teams I believe are most capable of turning their game up a notch in the regular season’s final stretch. (Unless noted otherwise, all stats via NBA.com.)
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5. LOS ANGELES LAKERS
The Lakers have owned a respectable offense all season, ranked eighth in offensive efficiency. It’s one of the few strengths of this team that’s been even better in its last five-to-10 games. Maybe that’s because the finality of missing the playoffs for only the second time in Kobe Bryant‘s career is setting in. Or, maybe there’s a cosmic motivation spurred by the death of Jerry Buss. This team has more intersecting, confusing elements than a Rubik’s cube, so it’s likely foolhardy to guess why there’s been improvement instead of simply seeing that there has been â€” and that’s a lot to say for this team.
Dwight Howard and Steve Nash are playing well at the same time (with Nash on the court, Howard’s points decrease but his boards go up and turnovers get cut in half to 2.3 per 36 minutes), with Bryant’s relentless competitive streak still alive. In their last five games the Lakers are averaging five more points per 48 minutes (107.2 to 102.2) by cutting the fat out of their diets. They shoot fewer field goal attempts and three-pointers but make more; reduce turnovers a little; and shoot a lower free-throw percentage (66 percent in the last five games) but get to the line four more times per game, which gives them a chance for more points. It’s a signal that without any more time to declare a new season, the Lakers are owning up to their unpredictable season and realizing an eighth seed is three games away.