Lakers still have something to play for in playoff chase – LA Times

By Mike Bresnahan
Los Angeles Times
 
One by one, the Lakers’ goals are disappearing before their eyes, but there’s a new one that might keep their interest over the final five regular-season games: staying ahead of Orlando.


They have no chance at their seasonlong goal of securing home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, nor does their more recent aim of a 60-victory season look overly promising, so they have to turn their attention to a Magic team that isn’t going away quietly.


The Lakers (55-22) are half a game ahead of Orlando (55-23), a consideration in case they meet in the NBA Finals.


The teams split the regular-season series, 1-1, but the Lakers own the tiebreaker because of a better record against the opposite conference, finishing 22-8 against the Eastern Conference. Orlando went 20-10 against the West.


It’s not the chase that the Lakers envisioned this late in the season. It’s merely the one they’re stuck with heading into Thursday’s game against Denver.


“Orlando’s a home-court advantage situation. It’s imminent,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said Wednesday.


Walton injury update


Luke Walton said he would play against Denver despite sitting out part of Wednesday’s practice because of a sore back.


“I practiced real hard [Tuesday] and it felt great, but I was a little sore [Wednesday], so I did the early parts of practice and when they started going with contact and full court, I sat out and iced it,” Walton said.


Walton has been bothered most of the season by a pinched nerve in his lower back. He played Sunday against San Antonio, his first game since Feb. 10.


Denver decline


The Nuggets have weathered a rough patch, losing Coach George Karl for an indefinite period while he is being treated for throat and neck cancer and playing 17 games without forward Kenyon Martin, who has tendinitis in his left knee.


Denver (51-27) dropped off the pace after losing five of six games at the end of March but has won three consecutive games, including a 98-94 victory Wednesday at Oklahoma City. The Nuggets trail the Lakers by 4 1/2 games.


“They’ve obviously had some major blows dealt to their ballclub,” Kobe Bryant said. “Start with Coach Karl, that’s tough to weather. Kenyon’s a huge part of what they do, so you take him out of the lineup and you suffer a little bit defensively.”


Assistant coach Adrian Dantley has led the Nuggets since Karl left to undergo a chemotherapy regimen after a March 16 game. Martin hasn’t played since March 3 and is taking part in limited workouts at practice with hopes of returning for the playoffs.


Etc.


The Minnesota Timberwolves have the second-worst record in the NBA (15-63), but Jackson is lamenting the fact the Lakers have to play them Friday to complete a quick two-game trip. The Lakers will leave Denver as soon as their game ends and won’t arrive in Minneapolis until about 4 a.m. Friday. “That’ll make it tough, just by the attrition to travel schedule.” Jackson said.