By Mark Medina and J.P. Hoornstra
ATLANTA — Magic Johnson may have enjoyed overseeing the Dodgers making a playoff run in only the second season since partnering with an ownership group to buy the baseball franchise. But he still can’t seem to get his mind off the Lakers.
Well before the Dodgers showed championship promise in a 6-1 Game 1 victory over the Atlanta Braves in the National League Division Series, Johnson hardly sounded optimistic the Lakers will boast similar success.
“We can’t say that the Lakers are not going to make the playoffs,” Johnson said after batting practice. “I think they’re good enough to get that seventh or eighth seed.”
That expectation hardly mirrors when Johnson led the Lakers to five NBA championships in the 1980′s during the “Showtime Era.” But the Lakers enter the 2013-14 season with plenty of uncertainty.
They’re only a season removed from a first-round flameout to the San Antonio Spurs. The Lakers lost two key defenders this offseason in Dwight Howard (free agency) and Metta World Peace (waived via amnesty provision). The verdict remains undecided on how Mike D’Antoni will fare with a full training camp and a roster more suited for his pick-and-roll heavy offense that calls for smaller lineups and a wide array of shooters. Steve Nash and Pau Gasol report they have fully recovered from respective hamstring and knee injuries, though a full 82-game schedule will soon reveal whether they can stay healthy.
Of course, plenty of questions surround Kobe Bryant. When will he return from a surgically repaired Achilles tendon? How will his overseas trip to Germany go for a procedure on his surgically repaired right knee? Will Bryant still manufacture the same level of greatness he’s shown through a storied 17-year NBA career?
“Kobe’s injured. nobody knows what’s going to happen,” Johnson said. “Lakers fans will never be happy. But I’ll tell you what would’ve been bad, is if the Dodgers were bad then the Lakers were having this season too. That town would’ve really been — so it’s great that we’re doing well. Hopefully that will help the Lakers. we’ll see what happens.”
Johnson has sounded skepticism plenty of times this offseason about the Lakers.
In an interview with this newspaper, Johnson argued the Lakers could make the playoffs only if Bryant’s play remains high whenever he returns. During an appearance Monday night on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Johnson voiced skepticism Bryant would return for the Lakers’ season opener Oct. 29 against the Clippers.
His skepticism toward the Lakers has apparently driven Johnson to use the diamond as a distraction.
“Right now, my focus is on the Dodgers,” Johnson said. “When we’re done, I’ll focus on the Lakers.”
Yet, his ongoing analysis on the purple and gold suggests he already has.
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