Lakers coach Phil Jackson didn’t hesitate when a reporter asked him which Western Conference team he thought should be considered the frontrunner at this point.
“I think we’re the frontrunner,” Jackson said. “That’s what I would say.”
That’s a sign of confidence in his team, but also a recognition that the Lakers have a highly-favorable schedule down the stretch. After tonight’s game in Oakland, eight of the Lakers final 11 games are home games. One of the three road games though, is a game against the Clippers, where the Clippers are the designated home team.
And of those next 11 games, only six are against teams with winning records (Washington, Portland (twice), Dallas and San Antonio).
The Lakers have two dates with Sacramento left, one game with the Clippers, Memphis and Charlotte.
Even if the Lakers lose tonight in Oakland, a 9-2 or even 8-3 finish is very realistic with that schedule. That would leave the Lakers with 56 or 57 wins.
New Orleans on the other hand, plays 10 of its final 14 games on the road. It’s got dates at Cleveland, at Boston, at Orlando, home games against Golden State and Utah and a road game against the Lakers on April 11.
The only “easy” games the Hornets have left are a road game with Miami on April 2, a home date against the Knicks on April 4, a road game in Minnesota on April 9 and a home game against the Clippers on April 15.
To match the Lakers, the Hornets would need to win all four “easy” games, and then at least five or six of those other eight games.