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The Lakers Are In
With the Utah Jazz losing to the Memphis Grizzlies early on Wednesday night, the Los Angeles Lakers were already assured a playoff spot. By beating the Houston Rockets later the night, the Lakers were even able to slide up one spot and nab the 7th seed. Although this isn’t what many Lakers fans would consider successful, this should be seen not so much as a failure but a rise to a most difficult challenge.
With the season ending injury of Kobe Bryant, the remaining hobbled crew of the Lakers are considered a one and done team going into this first round. Even by passing on a potential matchup with the Thunder and getting stuck with the injury riddled San Antonio Spurs, analysts from all over have claimed the match-ups lean more in favor of the Spurs.
This first round match-up reeks of an upset to me. Take away for a moment the position of standings in the regular season. Yes, the Los Angeles Lakers have been abysmal at times defensively, and yes, Kobe Bryant is out for a whole year with an Achilles tear. These are just some of the many obstacles standing in the way of this storied franchise. What you may not notice is the vastly improved play of both Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. With Bryant out, the ball is being shared a lot more amongst the rest of the team. A perfect example of this is Steve Blake. He has scored 47 points over the last two games with the Lakers. His season average? 7.3 points per game. Pau Gasol has had two triple doubles over the course of the last three games. You know how many he has had in his lifetime? Just seven. You couple that with Dwight Howard averaging 20.6 ppg and 11.6 rpg over the last ten games, this is a team showing substantial improvement since the beginning of April.
“We’ve been through so much as a team … that could have made us separate from each other,” said Howard, who had 16 points and 18 rebounds. “But we stayed strong, we stayed together and we won for each other. We’re happy that we’re in the playoffs, but we’re not done yet.” (ESPN.com)
With the Los Angeles Lakers set to play the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday at 3:30 EST in Texas, all eyes will be set on the new twin towers in Lakerland. Will Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard be enough to overcome Duncan, Parker and the rest of a very deep Spurs team? Of all the match-ups for the Lakers to get in the playoffs, this might be the most favorable for them. With the Spurs ailing as of late with injuries and losing the top seed in the West, this might be the most opportune time for the Lakers to strike. If the Lakers can bring the same defensive intensity they have been showing over the course of the last few games, this might be a closer series than most think.
Final Thoughts: A slightly telling quote about Kobe Bryant from Kevin McHale following the Rockets loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
“When he doesn’t play, there’s always that kind of rush [for] everybody — the ball moves a little bit more and stuff, and it all feels good for a while — but eventually, you can’t make up for what Kobe does. It all comes back to reality.” (ESPN.com)
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