Few would’ve predicted this is how the Lakers season would play out.
Even before they played a single game, the Lakers’ high profile acquisitions in Dwight Howard and Steve Nash led many to believe a championship parade would be inevitable. Metta World Peace boasted the Lakers would break the NBA’s regular season win record (72-10) set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. Nash and Howard appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline, “Now this is going to be fun.”
Far from it.
The Lakers (28-30) enter tonight’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves (20-34) at Staples Center in ninth place, trail the Houston Rockets (31-28) by 2 1/2 games for the eighth and final playoff spot. Yet, after winning 11 of their past 16 games, the Lakers believe they’ve embraced the challenge.
“You got some veterans on the team that enjoy this time,” Lakers guard Steve Nash said. “Let’s enjoy being the underdogs. Let’s enjoy the pressure, let’s welcome it and let’s embrace it and allow it to elevate our process and elevate our progress.”
Kobe Bryant didn’t sound like he wanted to join that party.
“It will be much more fun when we’re in the postseason,” Bryant said with a smirk.
But the point was well taken.
As much as they could’ve avoided this scenario regardless of the persisting injuries to Nash (fractured left leg), Steve Blake (lower abdominal injury), Pau Gasol (concussion, knee tendinitis, plantar fasciitis in right foot) and Jordan Hill (season-ending hip injury), the Lakers say it’s forced them to reveal a personality needed for championship aspirations.
“Everybody is a little edgy and we want to turn things around,” Bryant said. “We want to get to a point where we’re in the postseason and can make some noise.”
Of course, that’s hardly new for Bryant.
“I’m just naturally like that,” Bryant said. “I think this type of situation brings it out of all of us a little bit more and hopefully will get us to another level.”
But it might be new for others.
“This is the best life we could ever have,” Howard said. “So there’s no need for us to be mad. We’re not happy we’re in the position we’re in, but we still have a great life. Regardless of what happens tomorrow or the next day, we’re all blessed and we got to live one day at a time and have fun.”
The Lakers say they’re having fun by trying to overcome the large deficit they created in the Western Conference standings.
Not that they’re really paying attention to it. In fact, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni laid out one specific proposal on whether he wants his team to scoreboard watch.
“They can let me do that,” D’Antoni said. “I’ll do that for all of them. We just need to play. Our hole is so big that we can’t think that we can watch the [scoreboard] and do something. We just got to win games.”
What’s the key to avoid doing that?
“Not look at the scoreboard,” Howard said with a wry smile. “I don’t watch TV. I just know that we have to win every game we play.”
And embrace the pressure along the way.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org