HANG TIME, Texas — There was the stretch from Nov. 9-20 when the Lakers won five out of six games and peeked their heads above .500 for the first time in this tumultuous season.
Then there was the time when they won six out of seven from Dec. 14-28, which included the Christmas Day victory over the Knicks that got them back to dead level at 15-15.
But this time the Lakers really mean it. At least, that’s the message that Kobe Bryant delivered to Sports Illustrated when he told Jack McCallum that the debate over whether his troubled team would make the playoffs was hardly worth the time.
“It’s not a question of if we make the playoffs. We will.” Bryant said. “And when we get there, I have no fear of anyone — Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Denver … whoever. I have zero nervousness about that.”
The 26-29 Lakers are still 3 1/2 games behind the Rockets for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. But they have won six of their last nine games and are coming off a 113-99 thumping of the Celtics.
Curiously, it was a 107-97 loss at Miami on Feb. 10 to conclude their seven-game pre-All-Star weekend road trip that Bryant says gives him the most hope.
“We will make the playoffs,” he said. “And we will compete. And part of the reason I have that confidence is the Miami game. We had control of the game. That was no fluke. We were playing very, very well. We were reading the defense, making the extra pass.
“OK, they have two great players [LeBron James and Dwyane Wade] who scored eight straight buckets and took control of the game. But we were right there. We can do it.”
The Lakers are at home to face the Trail Blazers tonight, which will start a stretch of eight games in which they will face five teams with losing records.
Can we buy into it? Should be buy into it? Of course, a lot of were believers when the pieces of the so-called super team were assembled last summer and figured it was only a matter of tearing the pages off the calendar until the Lakers would be playing in The Finals in June.
Sure, you’ve thought they’d turn a corner before only to see them get flattened by a bus. But this time, Kobe says he means it.