The inconsistency and overlapping injuries disturbed Magic Johnson so much this season that he once counted the Lakers out of the playoffs.
With the Lakers (36-33) nursing a 1 1/2 game lead over the Utah Jazz (34-34) for the final playoff spot with 13 games remaining, Johnson sounded optimistic about their postseason fortunes.
“The Lakers are one of the most dangerous teams,” Johnson said. “The difference is they got talent and have two weeks to put it together. They can still get this thing done. If they get the right matchup in that first round, they can cause a lot of heartaches for people.”
Johnson, an executive with the Dodgers, made those comments to reporters in Phoenix after visiting with the team during spring training. The Lakers face a number of first-round candidates, including the San Antonio Spurs (52-16), Oklahoma City Thunder (50-19), Memphis Grizzlies (46-21) and the Clippers (47-22). The Lakers have gone a combined 1-8 against those teams, with the lone victory happening Jan. 27 in a home game against the Thunder.
“You have to remember Miami that first year. Same thing,” said Johnson, who’s an unpaid vice president with the Lakers. “They were up and down. Looked bad. Looked great. Looked bad. Then they went all the way to the Finals.”
There’s one key difference.
The Heat always remained in playoff contention.
The Lakers enter tonight’s game against the Washington Wizards (24-43) with a 1 1/2 game deficit behind the Houston Rockets (37-31) for the seventh playoff seed. The Lakers are also within striking distance of the Golden State Warriors (39-31), who nurse a 2 1/2 game cushion for the sixth playoff spot.
There’s more optimistic signs. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol will return tonight against Washington after nursing respective left ankle and right foot injuries. Dwight Howard’s conditioning has improved. And the Lakers have gone 7-3 in March.
Said Johnson: “This team still has time to get hot and get it together with the Lakers.”
*Daily News staff writer Vincent Bonsignore contributed to this report from Phoenix
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