It’s not exactly “news” that Kobe Bryant guaranteed the Lakers would make the playoffs.
He’s maintained long-held optimism literally after every game the Lakers will turn a corner. Even when the struggles persisted, Bryant refused to waver. Yet, Bryant’s comments to Sports Illustated inevitably made headlines.
“It’s not a question of if we make the playoffs. We will,” Bryant told Sports Illustrated. “And when we get there, I have no fear of anyone — Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Denver … whoever. I have zero nervousness about that.”
It remains unclear if the Lakers will be able to do that. The Lakers (26-29) enter tonight’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers (25-29) with a 3 1/2 game deficit behind the Houston Rockets (30-26) for the eighth playoff spot. But the Lakers largely welcomed the message.
“That’s great,” Lakers guard Steve Nash said. “We love it when your best player has that confidence and challenge. He’s put it out for us to go get it.”
But don’t expect other Lakers to sound as boldly. Perhaps with the exception of Metta World Peace, who proudly predicted the Lakers would eclipse the NBA’s regular-season record (72-10) set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls team.
“I’m not a guarantee kind of guy,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “But I’ll let him do the talking since he has to do the walking.”
Steve Nash hardly provided a good Joe Namath impression.
“I guarantee it,” Nash said with a bemused smile. “Everyone guarantees something and then everyone forgets it. I feel the whole guarantee thing is overrated. Would you guys care?”
But Bryant would likely spark even more attention if he admitted doubts the Lakers wouldn’t make the playoffs.
“I’m not going to sit up there and say no we’re not going to make it,” Lakers center Dwight Howard said. “We got to have faith. If we don’t, we’re not going to make it. I believe we’ll turn this around. We’re going to be great.”
The Lakers have shown an inconsistent pattern in doing so.
They’ve won nine of their last 13 games, including a signature win Wednesday against the Boston Celtics But the Lakers dropped three of their four games by double-digit margins against playoff caliber teams, such as the Boston, Miami Heat and the Clippers. The Lakers’ blew a 13-point lead in the team’s loss Jan. 31 to Phoenix. Two other wins happened when the Lakers nearly squandered a double-digit lead to sub. 500 teams in Minnesota and Detroit. They had to overcome a 20-point deficit in a win against the Charlotte Bobcats, the NBA’s worst team.
Meanwhile, the Lakers have missed Pau Gasol for the past two weeks because of a torn plantar fascia in his right foot. He’s expected to miss at least another four to six weeks.
“No one is impervious to confidence swings or questioning are we going to turn the corner and get it done,” Nash said. “But there’s still confidence. Nobody feels we’re out of this thing by any stretch. We’re trying to stay processed, stay focused and play the next game in front of you. If we keep improving marginally like we have, we have a chance. That’s what we’re playing for. No matter what disappointment we face this year, there’s a lot to play for. We feel pretty fortunate that we still are on it”.
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