EL SEGUNDO, Calif. –Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol seemed to be reading the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers their inevitable last rites on the eve of Game 4 of their first-round series against the overpowering San Antonio Spurs.
“I’m proud of the team because we’ve been fighting so much,” the proud Gasol said following what most likely was the Lakers’ final practice of the season Saturday. “We earned the right to be in the playoffs. We competed really hard the first two games in San Antonio. We gave ourselves a chance against a a very tough team and deep team. So I’m happy and proud of how the guys have fought through what we’ve been through and what we’re going through, and that’s what I like to see, that’s what I’ll keep in my mind and in my heart.”
A subdued Howard expressed a similar sentiment the day after the most disappointing team in franchise history experienced its worst home playoff loss ever.
“Despite all the injuries, as a team we’ve stayed together,” Howard said. “When most teams fall apart and blame each other, point the finger, we stayed together. We’ve become a closer team throughout all the adversity.”
Does such a statement signal that the chronically indecisive Howard sees his future in purple and gold?
“I haven’t thought about it,” Howard said.
Gasol or Howard or both might be playing their final game as a Laker. Howard, as a free agent come July 1, controls his future. Gasol, owed $19.3 million next season as part of an $83.1 million Laker payroll before potentially re-signing Howard, does not. Gasol could be traded or set free via the amnesty clause.
“What happens next,” Gasol said, “is totally up to the team and management.”
Gasol has seen it all during this often torturous season. He was benched in the fourth quarter by coach Mike D’Antoni in just the coach’s third game at helm, and then embarrassed by D’Antoni after the loss at Memphis. D’Antoni explained his decision to sit Gasol with this infamous statement: “I was thinking ‘Oh, I’d like to win this game.’”
Gasol played in just 49 games this season, knocked out by a concussion, by plantar fasciitis and by degenerative tendinosis in both knees that he said he’ll tackle this summer. Still, Gasol, along with Howard, is the last of the Lakers starters still standing heading into Sunday’s closing act against a Spurs team determined to put L.A. out of its misery if only to assure itself an extended rest before beginning round two.
Gasol has soldiered on, averaging 13.3 ppg, 10.7 rpg and 6.7 apg in the Lakers’ three opening losses in this series.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster this year,” Gasol said. “It’s been a very challenging season in different ways. Injuries, ups and downs, just a lot of things that had an effect on our team. We can’t really think about all that right now. It’s something that we’ll probably go back and go, ‘Wow all those things really happened,’ and those things happened for a reason. But again, it has been a difficult, challenging season.”
D’Antoni on Saturday acknowledged that he has regrets from his early, defiant takeover of the Lakers, likely the way he humiliated Gasol and tried to force his run-and-gun system on a club better suited for slow-it-down. He wasn’t ready to talk about those with faint hope for a miraculous comeback just 24 hours away.
“There’s a lot of regrets right now,” D’Antoni said. “But let’s talk about that later. Let’s try to win.”
That’s not likely considering Howard and Gasol will be the only starters in Game 4 that the Lakers figured to have in the playoffs. Joining Kobe Bryant on the injured list Sunday will be Steve Nash and Metta World Peace from the starting five, plus backcourt reserves Jodie Meeks and Steve Blake.
“Put it this way,” Nash said, “I am optimistic and I feel like I’ll be great next year.”
This year, however, is over. The 39-year-old point guard will end his first season with the Los Angeles Lakers essentially the way it began — in pain.
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni officially ruled out Nash for Sunday’s Game 4 (7 p.m. ET, TNT), a must-win for L.A. to force an improbable, seemingly impossible, Game 5 in San Antonio. For the first time during this lopsided series that the Spurs lead 3-0, Nash was not in practice gear and was not available following a Lakers workout.
“It’s the worst,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, whose San Antonio teams have long and colorful playoff history against Nash and his old Phoenix Suns. “It’s not just that he’s a good player, a great player, he’s a competitor. He’s one of the all-time competitors. To see him sitting on the sideline, you got to know that it’s killing him, it’s just killing him. I feel bad in the regard.”
Nash is dealing with back, hip and hamstring problems that are all related. He tweaked the injuries on the final play of Game 2, tried a cortisone shot to his hip and two epidural shots to his back in hopes of taking the court in Game 3, but he couldn’t do it.
“The irony, I guess, is that the back doesn’t affect me functionally, but the back is probably the root of all the problems,” said Nash, who has dealt with back issues for years. “It’s the hamstring and the hip that really prevented me, and I tweaked the whole system there on the last play of the half and it all went downhill from there.”
The Lakers’ ridiculously long injury list grew by one — and why not? — with Metta World Peace removing himself from Game 4 after sitting out the second half of Game 3. He irritated the right knee that he had surgically repaired just a month ago. Also out for what will will be Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks and, obviously, Kobe Bryant.
“It’s just been a crazy year. You can point back to the very start,” Nash said on Friday. “The bottom line is there’s no one reason, it’s just bad luck and a bunch of circumstances and, you know, it’s a shame.”
But Nash, as physically fit and nutritionally conscious as any player in the league, is planning for big things next season when the Lakers could well put essentially the same roster back on the floor if they re-sign Dwight Howard this summer. Pau Gasol could be gone, and Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark are free agents along with Howard.
Nash has two more seasons on his contract at $19 million. When training camp opens next October, speculation will be if Nash’s body can hold up. This season started with a freak incident, a broken leg and nerve damage in the second game of the season at Portland. Nash will turn 40 before the next All-Star Game.
Nash said he doesn’t discount the destructive forces of time on the body, but he said it’s unfair to blame this season’s series of ailments strictly on his age. His durability over 17 seasons is nothing short of remarkable. He missed 32 games this season, four times as many as in any recent season. He sat out eight in 2008-09, and you have to go back to 1999-2000 to find a season when he missed more.
“It’d be foolish not to say that it [age] could play some part, but I also think it’s really myopic to say that because I finally had an injury bug it’s age,” Nash said. “I think the biggest scenario is that everybody gets hurt at some point. The fact that I’m getting hurt now and haven’t been hurt before, it’s easy for everyone to say he’s getting old. I mean look around the room, what about the other guys? Is it because they’re getting old?”
Look beyond the Lakers. Look at the unfortunate injury list across the league: Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook (meniscus tear) is 24. Denver’s Danilo Gallinari (ACL) is 24. Golden State’s David Lee is 29. Boston’s Rajon Rondo is 27. Chicago’s Derrick Rose is 24.
Barring a miraculous comeback by the Lakers starting with Sunday’s Game 4, we have seen the last of Nash for this season.
But he’ll be back, and D’Antoni, whose greatest success came with Nash in Phoenix, believes he’ll have plenty left.
“I mean he’s dying inside,” D’Antoni said of Nash missing playoff games. “Then again, I think he’s excited about trying to get his body straight and coming back and having a great year. They’re on a mission, he, Kobe, Steve Blake, all of them are getting ready for another year.
“That’s them. We’re trying to lengthen this [series] and trying to win a game on Sunday.”
LOS ANGELES – It’s still difficult to process the devastation, that these are the Los Angeles Lakers. The 16-time champs. The team that coulda-woulda won 70 this season, yet suffered a third consecutive playoff loss and their worst one ever at home Friday, 120-89, to the San Antonio Spurs.
The classic gold uniforms emblazoned with purple down the sides and LAKERS racing across the front looked the same as playoffs past. But who were those guys wearing them? Even Jack had to raise his shades.
Guys named Andrew Goudelock and Darius Morris and Chris Duhon and Earl Clark were forced to play minutes better suited for a Vegas Summer League game. Meanwhile, $34.2 million of Laker payroll — or the club’s top four guards, including a cat named Kobe Bryant — watched from the bench, injured and dejected.
Actually, Black Mamba never even made it courtside. He probably knew what was ahead and knew he couldn’t stomach it, knew he couldn’t contain himself out in the open in front of restless fans, his fans, and grinding his teeth into talcum powder right there on the floor he’s so accustomed to dominating this time of year. Hidden from view, Bryant probably sent himself a thousand tweets.
After the game, being whirred away in a golf cart and wearing a gold Lakers t-shirt and a protective boot rising halfway up his left leg, Kobe was asked if it was hard to watch. “Of course,” he said, turning his palms up as if to say #WTH.
The game was uglier than even expected and the final result fit the description Mike D’Antoni used before the game for his state of mind considering the injuries and the crew he had left for a must-win Game 3: “As a coach you sleep like a baby and every 15 minutes you wake up crying.”
Then asked if his newly-christened backcourt of newbies Goudelock and Morris might actually improve the team’s perimeter defense from that of Steve Nash and Steve Blake, D’Antoni first laughed out loud, then said, “Uh, no.” He kept laughing.
Earlier in the day, the coach and his players tried to paint a scenario of success, talking of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol taking care of the paint and the NBA D-League MVP Goudelock, thrilled for his first NBA start, he said, so his parents back home in Atlanta could watch him on TV, would go off as if Friday night was just another D-League Showcase. At least the kid came strong, and at least the Lakers didn’t allow their first 18-point deficit in the second quarter to wipe them out without a fight. The second one in the third quarter did, and then came the cheap “We Want Phil” chants, first short-lived and then more robust during the Spurs’ runaway fourth.
And with that, this stink-o, injury-ravaged Lakers season is finally in the spin cycle and ready to drain.
The San Antonio Spurs, with five players scoring in double figures and 13 in all scoring, seek to wrap up this fraudulent first-round series Sunday back at Staples. If accomplished it would be the second broom taken to the proud Lakers in three seasons. The unceremonious end will officially begin the unceremonious “Where’s Dwight Going?” reality show. Get your popcorn.
Of course, there’s still basketball to be played in L.A. as soon as Tuesday night when the toast-of-the-town Clippers and the once-upon-a-time-Lakers-bound Chris Paul return home for Game 5 against the Grizzlies. The Spurs, assuming they do close this sack of a series on Sunday, will go home to begin an extended rest awaiting the high-speed winner between Denver and Golden State, two clubs themselves that aren’t whole.
The Warriors’ David Lee (torn hip flexor) and Denver’s Danilo Gallinari (torn ACL), two high-scoring, highly productive forwards instrumental to their teams’ success, are each out for the duration. Oklahoma City now feels their pain. Point guard Russell Westbrook will have surgery, the team announced Friday, to repair a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee.
The Thunder and the Spurs, last season’s Western Conference foes, figured to be so again. OKC’s side of the bracket with the Clippers and Grizzlies has sprung wide open. And suddenly it’s the Spurs who look primed to make a real run at a fifth championship in the Gregg Popovich-Tim Duncan era, a number that would tie the 37-year-old wonder in rings with Kobe.
“We’re good. Health is good,” Popovich said prior to Game 3. “The last few weeks haven’t been great health-wise, but we’ve slowly gotten better and better. Considering how many people have problems around the league, and the Lakers having theirs, we’re feeling pretty fortunate in that regard.”
Only a few weeks ago, the Spurs were the walking wounded and now have their Big Three healthy and with Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker returning to All-Star form.
Of course health this time of year is fleeting and that fact came crashing home as starting center Tiago Splitter, having his best season in the NBA, hopped off the floor with his left foot dangling in mid-air and left the arena on crutches.
X-rays were negative, but chances are slim that he can play Sunday. It will leave the Spurs a little light in the middle for one last stand from Dwight and Pau, one, if not both of whom might be playing their final game in Laker purple-and-gold.
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – As two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash walked away from Friday morning’s shootaround sharing very little confidence of being able to play in tonight’s Game 3 against the San Antonio Spurs, newly crowned D-League MVPAndrew Goudelock strode in high-stepping over his own swagger.
Goudelock said the plan is for him to start tonight at point guard if Nash is unable to go. Nash said he’s feeling better, but is a “long way from being NBA-ready.” With Steve Blake out indefinitely, Jodie Meeks doubtful and Kobe Bryant on crutches, L.A. will likely be without its top four guards. Goudelock and Darius Morris would run the backcourt.
That means the 6-foot-3 Goudelock will draw San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker on the defensive end. How does Goudelocke, with 425 minutes of NBA action under his belt, plan to do that?
“Just stay in front of him,” Goudelock said, matter-of-factly. “He’s a really quick guy, don’t let him get anything in transition, stay up on the pick-and-rolls. He’s got to guard me too, so I’m not really worried about Tony Parker.”
Goudelock averaged 21.4 ppg in the D-League and he has 175 total points in 41 career NBA games, or the amount Parker has scored in his last games — and that was playing through nagging injuries.
“I’ve always been a scorer, put the ball in the basket,” Goudelock said. “I lost a lot of weight so I’m a lot quicker. I just bring a lot of energy. Those guys don’t really know me, so I can bring something unexpected. With my scoring ability I think I can help a lot.”
The Lakers could certainly use it. They’ve scored 79 and 91 points and shot 43.2 percent in falling in a 2-0 hole
As the point guard, Goudelock said he can pass the ball, too, and find Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol for looks inside. He had never played the point until this season, but he says he’s a greatly improved passer. The Lakers players, although they haven’t seen much of him this season, expressed confidence in Goudelock’s game.
Kobe had already nicknamed him “Mini Mamba” for his scoring ability and attack mentality.
“People have to always honor my scoring, so it makes it easier to pass the ball because I get so much attention because they know that I can score and they probably don’t think I’m gonna pass it,” Goudelock said. “I’ve seen scouting reports from other teams that will be like ‘he’s not going to pass it.’ So it makes it that much easier for me to get 10 or 11 assists in the D-League because I’m getting double-teamed, getting so much attention, they know I can score, so it makes it easier for a guy like me, whether if I wasn’t a scorer as much it might be a little bit tougher because guys might be able to sag off me or do some other things.
“But being able to score and add that scoring punch takes a lot of load off my shoulders.”
That will be Parker’s problem, apparently. But one thing Goudelock will have to watch when he’s guarding the shifty Parker is the ticky-tack-type foul that he picked up during his brief appearance in Game 2.
“It’s going to happen. I’m a young guy, they don’t know me, they’re going to call that,” Goudelock said. “I’m ready for it. I’m ready for all of this. It doesn’t matter. I’ve been doing this since I was about 5 years old. It’s no different from if it’s Tony Parker or a guy in the D-League. They’re going to have to guard me, I’m going to have to guard them, it’s all basketball.”
Goudelock certainly talks the talk. The Lakers now need him to walk the walk.
No Kobe Bryant. No Steve Blake. Almost assuredly no Jodie Meeks. And most likely no Steve Nash.
No matter. Howard says he still believes.
“We have total confidence that we can come back and win this series, and we believe in each other,” Howard said following Friday’s workout when the Los Angeles Lakers learned of their worsening injury woes. “We worked too hard to get in the playoffs. We had to fight to get in and we’re not going to give up just because we’re down and have a lot of guys that are injured.”
The Lakers’ rickety season is once again on the brink Friday night as their first-round playoff series with the San Antonio Spurs moves to the Staples Center. With the Spurs up 2-0, it’s do-or-die for a limping Lakers team that could be forced to start a backcourt of two third-team, 2011 second-round draft picks in Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock.
While Nash told reporters Thursday that his fingers are crossed that two epidural shots to his back will work in time to allow him to play in Game 3 (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), Howard was working overtime with assistant coach Chuck Person with a helping hand from general manager Mitch Kupchak, a pretty good post player in his day with the Showtime Lakers.
It’ll be curtains for these slow-time Lakers unless the 6-foot-11, 265-pound Howard, once upon a time referred to as Superman, and his 7-foot frontcourt mate Pau Gasol, can assert their will on the Spurs and lift their less well-known teammates back into the series.
“Again, it is what it is,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said of the bleak injury situation. ”It’s not what anybody wishes for, but at the same time we need to dominate inside and that’s Pau and Dwight. So it’s a big load for Pau and Dwight. At the same time, that’s how we’re going to have to do it.”
Howard, praised for his dominant play in the final two games of the regular season after Kobe went down to get the Lakers in the playoffs, has taken critical shots for not getting it done in the opening two games in San Antonio. He’s averaged 18.0 ppg, 12.0 rpg and five fouls per game.
Everybody wants to see Howard rise to the occasion, to be a force that takes games away from the opponent. He took criticism for not being that dominant force in Game 2, scoring 16 points — same as Blake as well as the Spurs’ Kahwi Leonard and Tim Duncan — with nine rebounds, four blocks and five fouls when the Lakers had chances to keep the game close.
For Gasol, just 5-for-14 from the floor in Game 2, these could be his final games as a Laker. Well into the luxury tax next season, the organization will have to decide what to do with the player who is due $19.3 million next season and was all but traded to New Orleans last offseason before the blockbuster deal for Chris Paul was vetoed by commissioner David Stern.
Of course, Howard’s future is just as unsettled, although his future is at least in his own hands. The Lakers are desperate to sign him to a max deal this summer and make him the cornerstone of the franchise upon Bryant’s eventual retirement.
For now, it’s all about Game 3 and if Howard, reduced to 14th in this season’s voting for Defensive Player of the Year, and Gasol can play like the superstars their salaries say they are, and get L.A. a win.
“We just got to play,” Howard said. “We can’t control anybody’s injuries. We can’t control nothing but how hard we go out there and play. Me and Pau are going to do the best we can for this team.”
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – With the number of walking wounded around here it was half surprising that the Lakers’ training facility hadn’t been painted green with a giant red cross on the entry doors.
Or that Corporal Klinger wasn’t running Thursday’s light practice for the few Lakers left standing.
Of course Klinger, the old M*A*S*H* character, might still have more name recognition in this town than the two players that very well could make up L.A.’s starting backcourt Friday night in virtual must-win Game 3 against the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center.
Get ready for Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock.
“Well, yeah,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said, accompanied by a hearty chuckle, when asked if those two 2011 second-round picks will likely be thrust into heavy minutes. “And [Chris] Duhon. Go look at the rest we’ve got there.”
It ain’t much. The Lakers received more depressing news on Thursday that will make the task of clawing out of a 2-0 hole excruciatingly difficult. Guard Steve Blake, who has played so well since Kobe Bryant went down with an Achilles tear two games before the end of the regular season, got the results of his ultrasound back and he’s out indefinitely with a moderate strain of his right hamstring.
Point guard Steve Nash had two epidural injections in his back Thursday and his chances of playing Friday night have come to this: “I have fingers crossed.”
And not to be forgotten is shooting guard Jodie Meeks. The Lakers’ best long-distance scoring threat is likely out, too, with a sprained ankle. D’Antoni, in fact, considers Meeks to be more doubtful than Nash, who said Thursday that he’s still in quite a bit of discomfort from both tweaking his hip-hamstring injury in the final seconds of the first half of Game 2 as well as “from getting a bunch of darts stuck in me” on Thursday.
He characterized his state of concern for not being ready to play Friday as “very concerned.”
“It’s really frustrating, very, very frustrating, especially because I was at the point where I was actually excited with the way I felt to start the last two games,” Nash said. “Even though I couldn’t sprint completely and I wasn’t moving as well as I’d like, I could still be effective and find a way to help the team and impact the game. And obviously, to tweak it before the half and for it to deteriorate set me back. So it’s another set of highs and lows.”
Metta World Peace, having coming back from knee surgery in record time, amazingly, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol – no strangers to pain this season — are the healthiest key cogs that the Lakers have got.
D’Antoni said his big men will have to get the job done in the post, but that means that Goudelock, named the D-League’s MVP on Thursday, and Morris, who at least started 17 games filling in for the two injured Steves early in the season, will have to get them ball.
Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the Spurs’ sensational guards that are just now feeling healthy themselves, and the rest of the Spurs will try to make sure they can’t and put a stranglehold on the series.
After Game 2, D’Antoni sought refuge in that old NBA playoff adage that a series doesn’t really begin until the road team wins. Well, if the Spurs win Game 3, it will all but end this series.
Nash, ever the optimist and always equipped with an encouraging word, had such a message for Goudelock and Morris, who’d be wise to listen to the limping two-time MVP as they approach the toughest spot of their young careers.
“I don’t think those guys should approach it as a tough spot,” Nash said. “I think they should approach it like they’ve got nothing to lose and they should go out there and let it rip. If they have a tough night, what would you expect in their first NBA start out of nowhere? So they should play free and loose and use their youth and energy and the skills that they possess to go out and have fun with it and take a free cut.”
SAN ANTONIO — The Black Mamba didn’t tweet. Something about not wanting to be a distraction.
So Kobe Bryant sat at home again on the sofa in Orange County, this time resting his surgically repaired Achilles’ tendon and both his thumbs.
The Red Mambadid tweak. And jostle. And shove. And pull. And prod. It was all about being as bothersome as a mosquito at a nudist colony.
Matt Bonner never rested for even a single one of the 29 minutes that he had to contest, confront and confound Dwight Howard.
The Lakers All-Star center scored 16 points, pulled down nine rebounds and blocked four shots, but also picked up five fouls and a technical in another one of those nights when he did so much head-shaking that you wondered if it might fall right off his broad and muscular shoulders.
This is life without Kobe for the Lakers, nobody to bail them out at the end of difficult possessions or do some of the improbable things that might make the Spurs defense loosen up and have to guard the perimeter.
There were times in the first half of Game 2 when Howard was a monster at both ends of the floor, muscling inside for rugged buckets and trying to swat down any shot that the Spurs tried. He snarled after rejecting a Tim Duncan shot and he roared after making back-to-back rejections on Tony Parker.
But Howard also went up for an offensive rebound and swung a hard right elbow that caught Bonner square on his face and sent him to the floor like a bag of rocks.
The red-haired Bonner wore a sheepish smile and a red welt as he stood in front of his locker.
“You knock me down, I’ll keep getting up,” said Bonner.
Call it the Chumbawamba defense. Maybe that’s why none other than Kobe himself bestowed the nickname Red Mamba.
Or maybe it was the 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting — including another running one-hander — dubbed the “Shyhook” by the wags of the Internet.
“Matty’s a tough-minded individual,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “He’s a heck of a competitor and a great team guy. He’ll do whatever we ask him to do. I think his family worries about him and the things we ask him to do out there.” (more…)
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Let the singing of the praises begin. The Los Angeles Lakers are in the playoffs and in this strange season, that’s no small feat.
May it start with Dwight Howard. He was demanded to be dominant without Kobe Bryant by analysts such as Magic Johnson and more, and for those two must-have games he delivered: 42 points, 35 rebounds and seven blocks while playing 82 of 96 minutes.
“Everybody counted us out, but one thing that I told the guys tonight was that we’ve been through so much as a team this year, from the injuries to the rumors and everything that has happened,” Howard said after the Lakers rallied to defeat Houston 99-95 in overtime and pass the Rockets for the seventh seed. “It could have made us separate from each other, but we stayed strong, stayed together and we won for each other tonight. So we’re happy that we’re in the playoffs, but we’re not done yet.”
Next up for a golf clap is coach Mike D’Antoni. He’s absorbed tidal waves of criticism since taking over — including from right here — as the fans’ distant second choice to jilted Phil Jackson. Sure, Kobe’s season-ending Achilles injury might have finally forced D’Antoni to bend and feed his two bigs, Dwight and Pau Gasol, as so many have screamed for months, but he did.
Dwight’s 30 shot attempts over the last two games are his highest two-game total since March 6-8. At the other end, he reminded us why he was the three-time Defensive Player of the Year in Orlando before the back injury last season derailed a shot at four in a row. His two defensive gems against a driving James Harden late in the game were marvelous.
Gasol, dogged by injuries and an intellectual basketball divide with D’Antoni, came through in the last two games with 24 points, 36 rebounds and 13 assists, with a number of nifty passes going to Dwight.
The bottom line is the Lakers were written off and easily ridiculed. On Jan. 2 they were 15-16 and in 11th place. On Jan. 24 the Lakers hit rock-bottom, in 12th place at 17-25. Since then, through the death of beloved owner Jerry Buss and injuries to Gasol and Nash and Metta World Peace and now Kobe, they finished 28-12.
With the season on the line every single day in April, the Lakers won eight of nine.
“Obviously I’m really proud the way for just a month they had to just play in elimination-like games every night, and I think Steve Nash said it best, or Dwight, I forget which one said it, but after they [Houston's Chandler Parsons] threw in the 3 to tie the game and it went into overtime, he said, ‘It’s been hard all year, this stuff’s happened all year, so why was this any different, and it’s not going to be easy and let’s go out and win it,’ and they did.
“The great thing about it was everybody contributed, somebody did something that we got the win, because you can’t shoot 36 percent and make it easy, it’s going to be tough. So we didn’t shoot the ball well, but other than that I thought we had good shots and I thought the guys obviously played hard and we played well defensively again.”
It has been a team thing. Steve Blake has been off the charts with back-to-back 20-plus-point games. Antawn Jamison had 31 points and 10 rebounds, and shot 5-for-10 from beyond the arc.
While Utah’s loss at Memphis just before the Lakers tipped off against the Rockets got them in the playoffs, the gutsy win made sure they’d snag the unforeseen seventh seed and avoid Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round.
“I don’t even know what to say,” Blake said. “I’m just proud to be a Laker.”
Now these Lakers will take their cuts, with the pressure eased and nothing to lose with Kobe on crutches, against a disciplined and proficient San Antonio Spurs team. However, it is a Spurs team that limps into the postseason and isn’t immune to an early postseason upset.
In this strange season, anything, it seems, is possible.
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: Dirk Nowitzki finally shaved off that mangy, disgusting beard last night on the heels of the Mavs reaching the .500 mark 80 games into the season. Cute, but not exactly game-of-the-night material there. The Lakers-Spurs game was a pretty amazing showcase of heart and drive by the crew from L.A. in its first game following Kobe Bryant‘s season-ending injury as the Lakers took care of their old rivals. But we’re going with the Pacers-Knicks gamefrom Madison Square Garden yesterday simply because it showed just how much being in rhythm as the season winds down can be key. When New York’s shooters went into a swoon and the Pacers got hot in February, it looked like Indiana would easily hang on to the No. 2 spot in the East and provide the stiffest challenge for the defending-champion Heat. Instead, the Knicks have found their rhythm late in the season and this game yesterday assured N.Y. of the No. 2 spot and keeps them rolling as the playoffs draw near.
Knicks can’t wait to face Celtics in playoffs — Locking up the No. 2 seed in the East, as we mention above, was nothing to sneeze at in New York. Especially when you consider the last time the Knicks had the No. 2 seed, it was the 1993-94 season … when New York lost to Houston in the NBA Finals. Still, as nice as it was to throttle the Pacers to accomplish that feat, Carmelo Anthony and the rest of the Knicks are more looking forward to exacting some revenge on the team that ousted them from the playoffs last season: the Boston Celtics. Howard Beck of The New York Times has more on the Knicks’ goals:
The Knicks got everything they wanted, and with a minimum of pain.
With a suspense-free 90-80 victory, they clinched the second seed in the Eastern Conference and secured home-court advantage for the first two rounds of the playoffs, including a potential second-round meeting with the Pacers. The Knicks will open the playoffs Saturday against the seventh-seeded Boston Celtics — the team that swept them two springs ago, in Carmelo Anthony’s first postseason in New York.
“That’s in the back of our minds,” said Anthony, who scored 25 points. “We want to beat Boston — I mean, let’s be quite frank. This would be a great series for us.”
Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, who is injured, are the only Knicks left from that 2011 series. Yet the memory remains fresh, and for Anthony, painful.
A sweep was hardly the way he wanted to begin his career on Broadway. The Celtics have stood in the Knicks’ way ever since he arrived.
Two years later, the Knicks are deeper, wiser, more seasoned and better built for the challenge, with a veteran cast surrounding Anthony.
“We’re different as a team,” Anthony said. “As an organization, we’re a lot different than we were a year and a half, two years ago. The mind-set is a lot different. My mind-set right now is a lot different.”
Most important, the Knicks (53-27) emerged without a serious injury, although Anthony did bruise his left shoulder in the third quarter. He sat out the final period, but only because the Knicks did not need him.
Coach Mike Woodson twice called Anthony over when the Pacers started to rally down the stretch.
Each time, the Knicks beat back the spurt, and Anthony returned, smiling, to his seat.
“I was just playing with him, messing with him,” Woodson said. “No, his shoulder’s fine. And I was going to put him back. But I decided to pull him and ride the guys that kept the lead for us.”
With the Knicks clinching the No. 2 seed — their highest since finishing second in 1994 — Woodson will now rest his key players for the final two games. Anthony said he would sit out Monday night’s game at Charlotte. Raymond Felton also said he planned to take a rest over the final two games.
“I’ll be fine,” Anthony said. “And I’ll be ready come playoffs.”
Kobe-less Lakers step up against Spurs– Heading into Sunday’s game against the Spurs, the Lakers had plenty of reasons to feel down on themselves — the foremost of which being the season-ending torn Achilles Kobe Bryant suffered on Friday night against Golden State. But in a rare display of heart and teamwork, the Lakers bound together, got a strong performance from their “other” superstar (Dwight Howard), overcame a rough night by another big name (Pau Gasol) and got contributions from surprising places (such as Steve Blake) to edge ever closer to a playoff berth. Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News has more on the Lakers’ big win:
Life without Kobe Bryant, Day 1, was nothing if not unpredictable.
And in a crazy, wonderful, astonishing way, actually quite beautiful.
On a night when Pau Gasol was the 7-foot invisible Spaniard, Steve Blake told him, “I’ve got your back.”
Blake went on to have the performance of his career while standing on one of the biggest stages of his life.
In a game in which the Lakers hovered around 35 percent shooting all night and Gasol clanked 14 of 17 shots, they shook off their notoriously soft-defending ways to harass the San Antonio Spurs into 36.5 percent shooting.
“We can’t look at anybody else for help,” said Howard, who looked more comfortable in his Lakers skin than he has all year, leading the way with 26 points and punishing the Spurs with 17 rebounds and three blocked shots.
And with his team needing him to hit two crucial free throws late in the game, he sank both of them.
“Now we have to go out there and get this next game,” Howard said.
Two days ago no one would have believed they could, not with Bryant withering around in pain after tearing his left Achilles tendon and the big, bad Spurs coming to town to put the Lakers out of their misery.
Now, who knows?
After watching Blake score 23 points and Antawn Jamison come off the bench to score 15 – including two huge 3-pointers – and Gasol shake off one of the worst shooting nights of his career to grab 16 rebounds and block three shots and the Lakers dig in defensively in a way we haven’t seen all year, a trip the playoffs now seems likely.
No one is foolish enough to think the Lakers can mount some miraculous playoff run. That pipe dream is over, falling apart the moment Bryant went crumbling to the floor Friday with a season-ending injury.
Even if the Lakers do sneak through the small playoff crevice available to them, they’ll be a quick one-and-done against either the Oklahoma City Thunder or San Antonio in the opening round.
To think anything else is crazy talk.
“I still believe we can win,” Howard said, sternly. “No doubt in my mind.”
McHale, Rockets embrace underdog role — Hardly any seeds in the Western Conference are secure, which is just fine for coach Kevin McHale and the Rockets. Houston is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2008-09 and has its most wins since that season, too. Although it will likely come down to the season’s final night before Houston knows who it will play in the first round, McHale and his crew are ready to play the up-tempo style that led them to the postseason, regardless of whichever foe they face. David Barron of the Houston Chronicle has more:
With their 121-100 win over the Sacramento Kings, the Rockets improved to 45-35 and tied Golden State for the sixth seed in the Western Conference playoffs. They hold the tiebreaker over the Warriors and can clinch the sixth spot with wins Monday night at Phoenix and on Wednesday in Los Angeles over the Lakers.
There are scenarios aplenty for playoff series against any of the five teams in front of them — too many for coach Kevin McHale to focus on. Besides, McHale said, he knows how the form chart will read under any circumstances.
“Whoever we play, we will not be favored,” he said. “We’ll be underdogs to whoever we play. That’s fine with us. We want to get in there and get the guys playing well.
“I like our chances against anybody. If we can get defensive stops and get out and run and put pressure on the rim and knock down some shots, we’ll give anybody we play a good go.”
“This year is a year when we’re building a lot of stuff,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff to be proud of. I think James (Harden) has had a tremendous year. Jeremy Lin coming in has played very, very well. Omer Asik for the first time starting.
“It’s been a year. Greg Smith has really come on. Terrence Jones is coming on. Finding Patrick Beverley and bringing him over here … like I said, we’re just building and building. We’ve got two more regular-season games, and then we have the playoffs. I’m looking forward to it.”
Erving sounds off on Bynum — The Sixers’ season has been an unmitigated disaster, thanks most in part to the various injuries and rehab work that have kept Andrew Bynum from playing a single game in a Philly uniform. As reports are spreading that coach Doug Collins will resign soon and the team’s future looks ever-more hazy, a night of good memories might have been just what Philadelphia needed. Before last night’s eventual 91-77 win over the Cavs, the Sixers honored Julius Erving, Moses Malone and the rest of their 1983 championship team before the game. Erving, who serves in a front-office role with the team, sounded off on Bynum’s lack of play and more, writes Tom Moore of Phillyburbs.com:
The 76ers haven’t publicly criticized Andrew Bynum during a season in which he was paid $16.5 million and played no games due to knee injuries.
Hall of Famer Julius Erving, who is the team’s strategic advisor to the Sixers’ ownership group, didn’t hesitate to give his opinion on Bynum.
Prior to the Sixers’ home finale, a 91-77 victory over the Cavaliers on Sunday afternoon, Erving was asked about Bynum, whom the team acquired in a blockbuster Aug. 10 trade.
“I know what the net result is,” said Erving, smiling. “The net result is Robert Parish’s old number — 00. We have not benefited one degree. I guess he has.
“If the Bynum situation is one of total uncertainty for another year, I don’t think the organization should stand for that or the fans should stand for that.”
On the other hand, if the Sixers don’t re-sign Bynum or any of their other impending free agents, they could have about $12 million to spend this summer in free agency.
“I think if he’s not here, you’re going to free up a lot of money,” Erving said. “Washington and Lincoln can’t play the corners for you, but they can get somebody that can play the corners for you. We need somebody to play a corner for us and play the middle for us. It’s going to be costly.”
Do you think the Lakers finally have hit rock bottom?
Steve Aschburner: Rock bottom in the standings? Yes, yes I do. I can’t see the Lakers falling below 11th in the Western Conference, their perch as of Wednesday morning. But rock bottom by record? Hey, it’s possible they could wind up worse than six games under .500, their low mark (15-21) so far. And rock bottom emotionally? Very possible, in a dozen different ways. Maybe it’s Kobe Bryant or Steve Nash breaking down with a season-snuffing injury. Maybe Dwight Howard goes Hamlet on a second team for a third consecutive season, pondering his whims and wherabouts. Maybe the Lakers trade Pau Gasol and things get worse. Or maybe it hits them all hardest on the night they’re mathematically blocked from a playoff berth.
Fran Blinebury: Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead. (Kids, ask your parents.)
Jeff Caplan: I do, really. No way they could get any lower, right? Look, the bottom line is that Steve Nash, the orchestrator of coach Mike D’Antoni‘s offense, missed the first two months of the season. Dwight Howard hasn’t been the same athletically because of his back. Pau Gasol has now missed two stretches of games with injuries. The bench is weak and was made weaker by the injuries. Steve Blake could actually return and help some. But recently D’Antoni also said he plans to get Pau positioned more on the low block where he belongs. That’s a great start, a show that maybe D’Antoni can bend and can wrap his system around his players instead of the other way around. There’s just too much talent and pride on that team to go down in flames without a serious effort to get back into playoff contention.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Yes. And every time I have said that before the last few months, I have been proven wrong. I would have thought the first couple weeks was rock bottom. Or that night in New York, when the Knicks scored 68 in the first half. Or that six-game losing streak that just ended. That has to be it. That has to be rock bottom. (Uh-huh.)
John Schuhmann: Yeah, I don’t think things are going to get worse than a six-game losing streak in which their defense allowed 110 points per 100 possessions. I don’t think that home wins over the Cavs and Bucks indicate that they’re back on track to make the playoffs, but there have been some signs of defensive improvement and I think the worst is behind them. Thursday’s game against the Heat and the three-game trip that follows will obviously be a challenge. If they can win two of those four games, it will be clear that they’re making progress internally, even if they’re not making progress in the standings.
Sekou Smith: No. Rock bottom is the Lakers sitting outside of the top eight in the Western Conference standings in mid-April. Then and only then will it sink in around Lakerland that this team is scraping the bottom. Even now, with all of the mounting evidence against their chances of simply making the playoffs, there are those who continue to believe that the Lakers will somehow miraculously recover from the mess that has been the first two and a half months of their season. Their fairy tale ends with the No. 8 seed Lakers defying the odds and winning a title and shutting all of their haters up with a confetti-filled scene on the last night of the season in Miami or New York. Must be fun to live in that land of make believe.