OAKLAND — Throughout this turbulent season, the Lakers have always maintained they could still make a championship run if only a few variables fall into place.
If only they can stay healthy. If only a talented-laden roster in Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace maximize their chemistry. If only they show
But after the Lakers’ 109-103 loss Monday to the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena, Warriors coach Mark Jackson considered it all hogwash.
“I wanted my guys to understand that we are the better basketball team,” Jackson said. “We’ve played 72 games and the survey says that we are the better basketball team. That can’t be debated through 72 games.”
Jackson has a point.
The Lakers (36-35) have only a one-game lead over the Utah Jazz (35-36) for the eighth playoff spot. The Warriors (41-31) own a one-game cushion over the Houston Rockets (39-31) for the sixth seed. Golden State presented consistent outside threats in Stephen Curry (25 points), Klay Thompson (22) and Jarrett Jack (19) and a decent inside presence (23 points). Meanwhile, the Lakers featured an erratic Kobe Bryant (36 points on 11 of 27 shooting), an out-of-shape Pau Gasol (seven points on 3 of 8 shooting) and an uninvolved Dwight Howard (11 points on 4 of 8 shooting).
Still, Jackson conceded it might seem weird to argue such a case considering the Lakers boast four future Hall of Famers in Bryant, Gasol, Howard and Steve Nash and have vastly more championship experience. There’s also extenuating circumstances surrounding the Lakers’ sluggish play this season, including overlapping injuries, a new coaching change, players adjusting to Mike D’Antoni’s faster-paced system, D’Antoni tempering his offense and a shuffling roster. But as the former NFL coach Bill Parcells has famously said, “Your are what your record says you are.”
“We were not going to come into this game on our heels,” Jackson said. “We respect them and they have guys that will be in the Hall of Fame – I believe they have four of them. That being said, this is a different day and it’s a different basketball team. I thought it was important to be aggressive and let the chips fall where they may.”
Jackson’s well known for setting the bar high by his public statements, something I noted in a profile earlier this season. It remains to be seen how the Lakers respond to it considering their both superior championship past and sweeping Golden State in the regular-season series in five of the last eight seasons. The Lakers had also beaten the Warriors two other times this season.
“I don’t really pay attention to the history,” Jackson said. “At the end of the day, they’ve been good against us the last year and a half going on two years. They are a very, very talented basketball team. We are a different basketball team today, so I don’t count the history. We have a lot of respect for them. We are in our building and we are a better basketball team. Looking forward to the challenge.”