It's really far out, so let's not get too far ahead. But if the Lakers are to qualify for the NBA playoffs, they've got to play better basketball. After a 65-loss season, you've got to try to win at home and go on the road and win. And to play better defense.

So when Lakers Coach Luke Walton said the players need to know they're the team to beat in the West when they end their current road trip on Wednesday night in Cleveland, he was not being critical.

That's a way to motivate them.

It's the kind of thing that won the Dodgers so many games, especially home games in the postseason. They play their best in big spots. And everybody wonders why the Dodgers so often get hot in the postseason.

The Lakers are underdogs in their games against the Clippers, but the feeling remains they could win at Staples Center on Tuesday night. They shot 27.5% in a loss to the Clippers on Sunday at Staples.

So does this mean the Clippers are the Lakers' biggest challenge in the Western Conference? No, no, no. The Celtics could be a bigger threat than the Clippers, especially if they can start playing like they did in the regular season.

Before Boston's big win over the Celtics on Monday night, they started winning. A playoff series against the Clippers would be a team to watch.

But the Lakers need to win at least one of their last two games to ensure they have a winning season.

So just remember: No guarantee.

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