With a $100 million payroll, four future Hall of Famers and a storied championship history, it’s come to this.
The Lakers’ season-finale Wednesday against the Houston Rockets could decided whether they perhaps salvage an otherwise disastrous season or miss the playoffs for only the third time in the team’s history.
Few would have guessed this scenario.
Plenty envisioned the Lakers waltzing into the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat. Many wondered if anyone could stop a star-studded lineup that featured Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Paul Gasol. Never shy to boast, Lakers forward Metta World Peace predicted the team would surpass the NBA’s regular-season record (72-10) set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls team.
“I thought we’d be at a different point right now,” World Peace said. “But that’s allright.”
Instead, the Lakers (44-37) enter Wednesday’s game against the Houston Rockets (45-36) at Staples Center with a possible must-win situation. The Lakers are a pure lock for the playoffs if they win, earning a seventh seed and playing the San Antonio Spurs in the first round. A Lakers’ loss coupled with a Utah win against Memphis would ensure the Lakers have the eighth spot against the Oklahoma City Thunder. A Lakers’ loss along with a Utah win would take the Lakers out of playoff consideration.
In other words, everything in the Lakers’ season finale could define their season and beyond.
“Seventh and eighth, I feel good,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We’re out, I feel bad. It’s come to it’s in our hands. That’s what we’re playing for and we want it so here it is. Let’s go out and get it and take care of our own destiny.”
The Lakers could have clarity in their playoff picture before they even play. Utah plays Memphis at 5 p.m. PST, which should end either slightly before or slightly after the Lakers play at 7:30 p.m. D’Antoni acknowledged he’d remain more open to resting some players if they suffer “tweaks” should Utah loss, but he said he would still to play with a full roster.
The Lakers would likely match up better with San Antonio than Oklahoma City considering the Thunder features much more speed and athleticism that could seriously expose the Lakers’ on-going transition defense issues. But the Lakers avoided talking about which matchup they’d favor having.
“I know my math. We’ll know the score of the Utah game before we start,” Lakers forward Pau Gasol said. “That’s something, but regardless of what happens in that game, we still want to win and make a big difference. Seventh or eighth, I don’t know if it’s that big of a deal. We’re going to match up either against San Antonio or Oklahoma City, two great teams anyways. If Utah wins and beats Memphis on the road, it’s a must win. Win or go home.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org