EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Very few things have been absolute truths for the Los Angeles Lakers this season, but tonight at Staples Center, there are two statements that will be undeniably accurate:
If the Lakers beat the Houston Rockets, they claim the final playoff spot available in the Western Conference.
Like Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash wasn’t available to help them do it.
“It’s in our hands and that’s what we’ve been playing for and we’ve wanted, so here it is,” coach Mike D’Antoni said after Tuesday’s practice. “Let’s go out and take care of our own destiny.”
The Lakers knew even before tip-off that they already clinched a playoff berth.
A Utah Jazz loss to the Memphis Grizzlies earlier on Tuesday put the Lakers in. But the team is more focused on beating Houston.
“We have the mindset that that’s how we’re going to have to do it anyway,” said D’Antoni, “and we thought a lot about the fact that we might have to (win our last game) to do it. That’s what it’s come to and it’s up to us to do it.”
Houston has defeated the Lakers two out of three times during the
regular season, but LA has won seven of their last eight games,
including a huge 91-86 victory against San Antonio at Staples Center. It
was their first full game without Kobe, who’s out 6-9 months recovering
from surgery on his torn left Achilles’ tendon.
Dwight Howard, who played one of his best all-around games as a Laker with 26 points and 17 rebounds in the win over the Spurs, was asked what’s it like to now be the Lakers featured player in the suddenly Kobe-less offense.
just want to win,” he said. “Everybody seems to want to make a big deal
about who’s the main guy in the offense. I’ll say it again — I just
want to win.
“Offense isn’t our problem. It hasn’t ever been. If
we can hold teams under one hundred (points) every night, we win. We’re
“If we do that, we can do something very, very special. We just have to go out and play hard.”
The ninth-year center has tried to play hard every night, but it hasn’t always been possible as he recovers from last April’s spinal surgery.
Howard was back on the floor an astonishing seven months ahead of schedule, but he just wasn’t the player he had been with the Magic when he was a three-time defensive player of the year. He was good — even great in some Lakers games — but he wasn’t close to being Superman, D12. And the best center in the game.
But now, once again playing with great athleticism and leading the league in rebounding at 12.4 per game, Howard’s poised to lead the Lakers back to the playoffs and try to make a run at another NBA title — which would be the franchise’s 17 overall, which would tie them with the Boston Celtics for the all-time lead.
“That’s why I came here — to win,” Howard said. “I never had any doubts that I’d get back to being (myself), but it took such a long time that I got frustrated sometimes. But here we are now, everything we set as a goal after that bad start, and it’s all in our hands.