Lakers battle through adversity, reach playoffs
LOS ANGELES — All season long, the Lakers took the road not only less traveled, but the highway right past hell. And leave it up to the man who wasn’t even supposed to be on the whole trip to keep his team from careening into the abyss.
Pau Gasol had his second triple double in the last three games and the seventh of his career — 17 points, 20 rebounds and 11 assists — while Steve Blake surpassed his Lakers’ career high for the second game in a row, scoring 24 points to give LA an 99-95 overtime win over Houston on Wednesday night at Staples Center.
The win also earned them the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference. Despite both teams finishing at 45-37, the Lakers owned the tiebreaker over the Rockets.
The win means they get to avoid the devastating youth, speed and
quickness of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round, instead opening with the
much more traditional play of the second-seeded San Antonio Spurs.
The extra session on Wednesday was forced with a line-drive 3-pointer by the Rockets' Chandler Parsons as time ran out in regulation, but Dwight Howard reminded his Lakers teammates that nothing had been easy, and now the last regular season game wouldn’t be any different.
The Lakers actually found out they were in the playoffs after Utah lost to Memphis about 15 minutes before tipoff in LA, but there was a lot more to fight for, and they were prepared to show they are still a contender even without the great Kobe Bryant, sidelined by a season-ending Achilles injury.
The could possibly be without Steve Nash, too, who missed his eighth straight game with lower back, hip and hamstring maladies.
“I’m proud to be a Laker tonight,” Blake said during a post-game interview on the court. Everyone affiliated with the team in any way should feel the same.
The Lakers went 20-8 down the stretch to make the postseason despite an 18-26 record and extremely bleak outlook at one point.
“Every game we played the last couple of months was like an elimination game,” said coach Mike D’Antoni, who correctly predicted it would take a 20-8 record for his team to even get a chance at winning a title. “That’s why I’m so proud of all of them. We wanted to get in the front door. We never gave up.”
Gasol has fought through injuries, confidence-crushing trade rumors and even a very public mini-feud with D’Antoni this year to once again return to his standing among the best players in the world.
Without his last two triple-doubles, the Lakers are likely getting prepared for their exit interviews instead of the Spurs. Gasol, however, said he’s just doing whatever the Lakers need him to do in the course of a game.
“(With Kobe out), the ball is in my hands a lot more,” the four-time All Star said. “I’m just taking advantage of the opportunities and making plays.
“I love sharing the ball and I always try to make the right play out there. We have so many good shooters and weapons. It’s been good to see everyone step up. We’ve got a good flow going, and the defense is carry over to the offensive end.”
Gasol, in fact, thinks it's been the Lakers' focus on defense that has once again turned them into factors going into the playoffs.
“We have been playing very disciplined defense,” he said, “covering for each other whenever we can, and we have to carry that into the series with the Spurs. We still believe in each other very much and what we’re doing out there, and if we do the same against San Antonio, we’ll give ourselves a very good chance.
“Of course, it’s not going to be easy.”
Nothing has for this edition of the Los Angeles Lakers.