From Mark Heisler, Lakers Nation: Has this been a great season in Lakerdom, or what? Of course, even the most zealous Laker fans knows they may not make the Finals… or the conference finals… or the conference semifinals. Okay, there’s still a chance they won’t even make the playoffs — but who could ask for more? Yeah, yeah, I know, titles, banners….Hey, how fat a cat do you have to be to lament the failure to win their sixth title of the New Millenium — or twice as many as other team — and fail to appreciate what they have salvaged out of this car wreck, despite setback after setback and through recrimination after recrimination (It’s Jim Buss! It’s Mike D’Antoni! Kobe Bryant shoots too much! And what’s with this Dwight Howard guy?)
From Mike Bresnahan, LA Times: The Lakers have redefined unpredictability this season, touching too many lows to count despite an egregiously large $100-million payroll. But a basketball break bounced in their direction Monday, the Houston Rockets somehow losing to Phoenix, meaning the Lakers would finish seventh in the Western Conference if they beat the Rockets on Wednesday at Staples Center. The Lakers (44-37) trail Houston by a game but can even up the head-to-head tiebreaker at 2-2 with a victory Wednesday and simultaneously win the next tiebreaker because of a better conference mark. If the Lakers finish seventh, their first-round opponent would be San Antonio, the team they just beat Sunday, 91-86. If they finish eighth, they open the playoffs at top-seeded Oklahoma City, where they’ve lost six in a row, including an 0-3 mark in last season’s playoffs.
From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: Some people — and yesterday that group included some national television NBA pundits — will not let facts get in the way of some good speculation. Any word leaked out of Dwight Howard’s camp has always been that he would stay a Laker. But that hasn’t stopped some people from speculating he might go to Houston or Cleveland (even though his already damaged image would take another hit as he would be seen as running away from the team of Kareem and Mikan and Wilt). Now comes another report — this from the well-connected Sam Amick of the USA Today — that Howard is not going anywhere.
From Michael Jones, Yahoo Sports: Kobe Bryant isn’t going to fade away into oblivion in the wake of his disastrous Achilles tendon injury, but theLos Angeles Lakers will have to move on without him at some point. That’s why during the Lakers’ last two games sans The Black Mamba, all eyes will be on Dwight Howard to see how he fares as the team’s focal point, which he will eventually be, assuming he re-signs with L.A. this summer when he becomes a free agent. He passed his first major test with flying colors on Sunday night at Staples Center by pouring in 26 points and grabbing 17 rebounds to go along with three blocks and two steals while leading the Lakers past the always-dangerous San Antonio Spurs, 91-86, in a game they had to have. Despite a poor 8-for-17 mark from the free throw line, he looked every bit like a player who could anchor a franchise.
From Ben R, Silver Screen & Roll: As has been widely noted in the wake of Kobe Bryant’s injury, the team had two paths to take: they could wilt without their fearless leader and give in for the rest of a lost season, or come together with greater cohesiveness and increase their effort down the stretch. Thankfully, they chose the latter path and even though the Spurs played a remarkably poor game, Tony Parker in particular, the Lakers did what they needed to do in order to eke out a victory over a very good team. Even if everyone wasn’t on the same page defensively, you had people aggressively running out on shooters and doing their best in help responsibilities, things that have definitely not been very consistent this year. And even as the absence of Steve Nash and Kobe were felt on offense as the Lakers tried an awkward, post-up heavy system, the Lakers’ role players stepped up and responded to expectations. It probably doesn’t change the calculus of this season or their eventual fate, but for once, the moral victory in the team finally looking like a team is one we can take comfort in despite the sour taste from Kobe’s absence.