2011 NBA Playoff Picture: Los Angeles Lakers In Hunt For West's Top Seed

The Los Angeles Lakers entered each of the last two posteasons with the Western Conference's best record, and have a chance to run that streak to three if they can overtake the San Antonio Spurs. On a 17-2 tear since co-hosting All-Star Weekend with the Clippers, the Lakers have moved to within striking distance of the Spurs atop the West and have put a 2.5-game cushion between themselves and the third-seeded Dallas Mavericks. Let's take a look at the scenarios as they stand today:

To guarantee a seed no worse than second, L.A. needs only a 3-3 close to the season. Doing so would ensure Dallas cannot catch the Lakers; even if the teams finish with identical records, the Lakers will own the higher seed by dint of winning their division, while Dallas has already guaranteed itself a second-place finish in its division. Should the Lakers slip to 2-4, the Mavericks can leapfrog them by winning their five remaining games. On the whole, it's very likely that the Lakers won't have to worry about Dallas catching them.

The more interesting race is with San Antonio. Here are the scenarios on that front:

  • If the Lakers finish the season 6-0, the Spurs would need to close their season 4-1 to guarantee the top seed in the West. Additionally, the Spurs' lone loss could not come to the Lakers; they would need to defeat Atlanta, Sacramento, Utah, and Phoenix.

  • If the Lakers go 5-1 in their final six games, San Antonio needs a 3-2 finish to maintain the top seed.

  • Should L.A. close its schedule with a 4-2 record, the Spurs need only finish 2-3 to hold on.

  • A modest 3-3 finish by the Lakers would mean San Antonio could afford to go 1-4 in its final five and still keep the West's best record.

Essentially, the Spurs are still in command here, but the combination of the Lakers' incredible 17-2 record since late February and San Antonio's six-game losing streak last week (since broken with a win against Phoenix) has made the race somewhat competitive again.

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