Why Kobe’s Guarantee That The Lakers Will Make The Playoffs Is, In Fact, Crazy

  • Matt Rudnitsky

Kobe Bryant is the type of guy who would guarantee that a dysfunctional bunch of aging asshats would make the NBA playoffs despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In fact, he just did that. Kobe Bryant guarantees that the Los Angeles Lakers will make the 2013 NBA playoffs. He told that to Sports Illustrated‘s Jack McCallum.

SI: Can you get this done? And is it hard that after winning five championships you’re battling to make the playoffs?

Bryant: It’s not a question of if we make the playoffs. We will. And when we get there, I have no fear of anyone — Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Denver … whoever. I have zero nervousness about that.

SI: OK, that’s you, who has never been known for lack of confidence.

Bryant: But I’m not talking about just me. Us as a group. We will make the playoffs. And we will compete.

First of all, the “make the playoffs part” is crazy, but the “compete” part is insane. If the Lakers make the playoffs, they’ll likely play the Spurs. Perhaps the Thunder. They would almost certainly lose to either team.

But exactly how crazy is Kobe to guarantee that the Lakers make the playoffs?

John Hollinger’s playoff odds give the Lakers a 32.7% chance. But his Power Rankings say the Lakers are the league’s 10th-best team. The Lakers may improve and become the league’s tenth-best team, but the Lakers are not the league’s 10th-best team. Their chances are probably smaller. The Lakers have played much better lately, looking like an actually good team, but they’re still 9-18 on the road. They have two impressive road wins all season (at Golden State in OT and at Brooklyn). Even games you think they will win easily on the road are far from sure things.

Here’s the portion of the standings relevant to them. Golden State is sixth. Three teams in this graphic will (almost certainly) make the playoffs.

The Rockets are playing exceptionally well, and have a relatively easy schedule. If everything happens as it is expected to by Vegas, the Rockets will grab the seventh seed and the Jazz will be eighth. To make the playoffs, the Lakers will likely need to outperform expectations and pass the Jazz. They’re five games back with 27 games to go. This will be harder than getting Steve Nash to eat Skittles.

Here’s their remaining schedule and the outcomes the point spreads will likely suggest.

vs Portland (win)
at Dallas (tossup)
at Denver (loss)
vs Minnesota (win)
vs Atlanta (win)
at Oklahoma City (loss)
at New Orleans (tossup/win)
vs Toronto (win)
vs Chicago (tossup)
at Orlando (win)
at Atlanta (loss)
at Indiana (loss)
vs Sacramento (win)
at Phoenix (win)
vs Washington (win)
at Golden State (loss)
at Minnesota (win)
at Milwaukee (tossup)
at Sacramento (win)
vs Dallas (win)
vs Memphis (tossup)
at Los Angeles (loss)
vs New Orleans (win)
at Portland (tossup)
vs Golden State (tossup)
vs San Antonio (loss)
vs Houston (tossup)

That’s a very rough sketch, and realize that even the “wins” aren’t close to sure wins. For tonight’s game against Portland, the Lakers are 9.5-point favorites and -500 on the moneyline. That implies they have an 83.3% chance of winning. You can’t expect they’ll win every game they should (or lose every game they should).

But: going by this rough sketch, the Lakers have 12 “sure” wins. That puts them at 38 wins. They’ll need more than that to make the playoffs — probably between 43 and 46 wins. They have seven “sure” losses. That leaves seven tossups and the game at New Orleans where they’ll probably be slight favorites. So, they’ll probably have to win 5-8 games out of eight games where they have about a 50% chance of winning. Unless they start scoring upsets — and those “sure” losses are all really tough games.

An optimistic outlook would be that they win two of the “sure” losses and lose just one of the sure wins. That’s what a statistically-inclined, Vegas-located Kobe would guess. Then he’d probably say they win six of the eight toss-ups, defying probability. That would give them 45 wins. That is probably the best-case scenario. They’d probably get the No. 8 seed and the honor of losing to San Antonio in five games. That is very optimistic.

The Lakers will probably not make the playoffs. If they outperform their season form by a considerable margin, they have a shot. But making the playoffs would be the upset, not the other way around.

All this means that the playoff guarantee is a silly thing for a man to say, even if you’re Kobe Bryant. If he shuts everyone up, I’ll be impressed. But if I had to guess, I’d bet that he eventually regrets this saying it. Perhaps more than Mike Tannenbaum’s guarantee to give Mark Freaking Sanchez $20.5 million.