Hardcourt Correspondent, White Cover Magazine
You’re warned. Don’t count your chickens. Don’t give too much credit to the easy attention hogs. Don’t let the combination of Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Steve Nash cloud your judgment. Except, why not?
The Lakers are still the Lakers. You’ll have to forgive them for their first half. You have to for every team like them, and you can look to the Los Angeles Kings — the NHL team they share an arena with — for proof and historical pattern-ship. (Is that a word? No, it’s not.) The Lakers are very good. Think of their season like two seasons. The first 41 games were bullsh*t. The second 41 games were for real and, even then, doesn’t it still feel like we haven’t seen all they have to give.
Of course, the Lakers aren’t there yet. With four games remaining, Los Angeles is half a game up on Utah, which has three games remaining. If the two teams tie, the Jazz get in, and L.A. has a gauntlet to finish that includes a three-game finale against teams that are all ahead of them: Golden State, San Antonio, and then Houston. This season, they’ve gone 2-8 against those three teams.
So, the Lakers are still (if for the first time only) the underdogs. Missing the playoffs would only increase their hype in 2014. Making them would pit L.A. against either first-place San Antonio or almost-first-place Oklahoma City.
I could see the Lakers downing the Spurs. The Thunder? Not so much.
The same can’t be said for Utah. While it would be nice to see the Jazz make the postseason — and, really, what casual fan likes Showtime over Mormon Town? — it’s also hard to see Utah lasting seven games or God forbid more against the Alamo. Utah would make the playoffs so they can jack up their ticket sales for a week’s worth, or at least two games worth.
Los Angeles would make the playoffs and change the conversation. The West is strong, but not that strong. The Lakers are capable of beating almost any team in seven games, and all they need is to make Round 2 to make this year and all its problems kosher. They could at least blame an early exit on their injuries. San Antonio would blame it on being old, and the Clippers would blame it on being young. Still.
Denver can just blame it on being Denver. The Nuggets are the Orlando Magic of the West. They’re only worth your time if there’s a hole to fill.
Still, the Lakers have a lot of work to do — specifically, three games worth — and they haven’t been on top of their sh*t as of late. L.A.’s ridden the mediocre rail to a 5-5 record in their last 10. Meanwhile, the Jazz have answered the bell and gone 7-3.
If you’re wondering how the Lakers have been on the NBA’s playoff fence for so long and never tipped off or across it, look no further than that.
If L.A. keeps even with Utah in their past 10 games — whether both go 5-5 or both go 7-3 — then all Kobe and Ko. have to do is win one, maybe two. They’re in. It’s over. We don’t even have to have this discussion. Except, of course, we would, because it’s Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard and (sometimes) Steve Nash.
The plan hasn’t fit the portfolio at the Staples Center this year, and that includes the resurrection of the Clippers, who have only played incredible and still find themselves looking in on a different Top 3 out West.
Yes, the Lakers are relevant again, but we’ll have to wait another year to see what it counts for.
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