Granted, they’re three games under .500 and 3½ games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, but Bryant sounded certain when he told SI.com that it was going to happen.
“It's not a question of
if we make the playoffs,” Bryant told the website. “We will. And when we get there, I have no fear of anyone -- Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Denver ... whoever. I have zero nervousness about that.”
Steve Nash, although not as vocal, backed Bryant on the issue.
“That’s great,” Nash said. “You love it when your best player has that confidence and that challenge. He’s put it out there for us to go get it now.”
Added coach Mike D'Antoni: “I’m not a guarantee kind of guy but I’ll let [Bryant] do the talking since he’s got to do the walking.
"He’s got a lot to say about it, so that’s good. I don’t mind, as long as we back it up. I think it’s great. You have to have that mind-set and I think everybody does.”
Bryant’s confidence has never been shaky, and it was easy to understand his belief that the Lakers (26-29) can make a late run and reach the postseason. They beat the Boston Celtics on Wednesday in an emotional game honoring their owner, Jerry Buss, who died this week, and they’ve won nine of their past 13 games.
But they still have 27 left to play, including contests against the Nuggets and the Thunder in the next two weeks. So time is running out.
Bryant, however, isn’t about to consider anything less than the playoffs. And it’s not just his own confidence that he’s talking about.
“… I'm not talking about just me,” he said. “Us as a group. We will make the playoffs. And we will compete. And part of the reason I have that confidence is the Miami game (a 107-97 loss in Miami on Feb. 10). We had control of the game. That was no fluke. We were playing very, very well. We were reading the defense, making the extra pass. OK, they have two great players (LeBron James and Dwayne Wade) who scored eight straight buckets and took control of the game. But we were right there. We can do it.”
Now all his teammates have to do is make Bryant look good.
Dwight Howard, who has been the subject of much scrutiny but this week said he saw himself as the cornerstone of the franchise, said he thinks Lakers still have a shot at the postseason.
“I’m not going to sit up here and say, ‘No, we’re not going to make it,’ ” Dwight Howard said. “We’ve got to have faith. If we don’t we’re not going to make it. I believe that we’re going to turn this around and we’re going to be great.”