After playing 41 of 82 regular season games, the Lakers are 26-15 (.634). They are in fifth place in the Western Conference. They are also fifth best in the entire NBA since the top six records are in the Western Conference. The best teams in the East are the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Washington Wizards at 24-16 (.600). (Each of those teams has a superstar, Lebron James and Gilbert Arenas, respectively. Great players matter in basketball. The Detroit Pistons are unusual in that they won the championship with a lot of good players and outstanding defense, but no bona fide superstar.)
The Lakers have stayed in fifth place despite missing their second best player Lamar Odom as well as Kwame Brown (not to mention that their starting center Chris Mihm is out for the season).
The Lakers are clearly not as good as the Dallas Mavericks 33-8 (.805) and the Phoenix Suns 31-9 (.795), two teams that score like Warren Beatty at a party in Laurel Canyon. However, they’re pretty damn good and once they get Lamar and Kwame back, they have a chance against anyone in a seven-game playoff series. Kobe can win one game all by himself in a playoff series, which might be enough to make the difference between winning and losing.
To say they’ll get in the playoffs is something of a joke because in the Western Conference more teams make the playoffs (8) than don’t (7). Right now all the teams in the West with winning records would be in the playoffs and all the teams with losing records would not. In the East it looks like one or two teams with losing records will make the post-season. You have to be really bad to miss the playoffs.