The Lakers' Dwight Howard tries to get around Maverick defenders… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
The Lakers head into 2013 in 10th place (Western Conference) with a 15-15 record, overtaking both the Utah Jazz (15-17) and the Dallas Mavericks (12-19).
The minimum goal of the regular season is to finish in the top eight. Naturally, the Lakers will strive to finish as high as possible, but anything above sixth place in the West will be difficult to attain.
The Clippers (25-6) have the best record in the NBA and are slightly ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder (24-6). The Lakers have already lost once to both teams this year.
The Lakers play both the Clippers and Thunder three more times each this season. The Clippers face the Thunder twice. If the Lakers sweep all six, they'll still be six losses behind both.
If either the Thunder or Clippers sweep the other, the Lakers would need that same team to lose four more than the Lakers do. It's not impossible, but the Lakers are unlikely to overtake either team.
The San Antonio Spurs (25-8) are 8 1/2 ahead of the Lakers. The Spurs took the first meeting and the two meet twice again in the regular season. If the Lakers take both over San Antonio, they're still five losses behind.
The Memphis Grizzlies (19-9) are in fourth place and have two meetings left with the Lakers. They'll still be four losses better if the Lakers take the remaining head-to-head battles.
With two victories already over the Golden State Warriors (21-10), the Lakers can climb within three losses if they complete a season sweep.
One through four would take a significant drop off from the Clippers, Thunder, Spurs or Grizzlies. The Warriors are slightly within reach of the Lakers, but even that will be difficult.
The Lakers are just 1 1/2 games behind the Houston Rockets (17-14), one game behind the Denver Nuggets (17-15) and a half behind the eighth-place Minnesota Timberwolves (14-13) and Portland Trail Blazers (15-14). The Lakers play the Wolves three more times along with the Rockets and Nuggets twice. They'll visit the Blazers one last time before season's end.
The Lakers can climb as high as the sixth seed by taking care of their head-to-heads and continuing to win at a high pace over the remainder of the season.
They'll need to play focused, determined basketball while staying relatively healthy given their difficult start, which has led to a .500 record as 2013 begins (with 52 games left to play).