Playoffs not looking good for Lakers
The walk to the team bus was short but still left eons for Steve Nash to ponder the imponderable.
Will the Lakers miss the playoffs?
"I think about it every day," he said in a quiet moment after their latest loss, Wednesday in San Antonio. "We've got to make some serious ground up here quickly. We're in deep, and we've got to find a way to scratch and claw and get to 48 wins."
He chose 48 because it was tossed his way by a reporter. It's the average number of victories claimed by the eighth and final team in the Western Conference playoffs the last five years. It's actually 47.7 and based on a .582 winning percentage to account for playing only 66 games last season because of the lockout.
So the Lakers (15-20) must go 33-14 the rest of the way to get to 48. Good luck.
The team winning 43% of its games must now win 70% of the rest.
The first chance is Friday at home against Oklahoma City (27-8) without Dwight Howard and possibly Pau Gasol, who's still not cleared to play because of a concussion.
Reality gets only more biting for the Lakers and their $100-million payroll. Even if they miss the playoffs, their lottery pick goes to Phoenix as part of the Nash trade.
Some basketball experts, so to speak, aren't on the Lakers' side.
"I don't think they can make the playoffs," TNT analyst Chris Webber said after watching them lose to Houston on Tuesday. "Of course they should be able to do it, but the parity in the Western Conference is some of the best right now."
One fairly important voice thinks the Lakers will get there. He was the guy they called at midnight two months ago to say they didn't want him coaching their team.
"I still believe the Lakers can make the playoffs," Phil Jackson said in an email to The Times. "They might have to have a 'come to Jesus' moment to get their defense in order, but they have the talent."
The Lakers have missed playoffs only twice since 1976.
They failed miserably the year after Shaquille O'Neal was traded, going 34-48 in 2004-05 amid a midseason coaching change (Rudy Tomjanovich out, Frank Hamblen in). They went 2-19 down the stretch as Jumaine Jones, Chucky Atkins, Chris Mihm and Luke Walton joined Kobe Bryant in the starting lineup.
The Lakers also flopped in 1993-94, finishing 33-49 after another in-season coaching switch. Not even Magic Johnson could pull a rabbit out of a hat with that team, going 5-11 as coach after Randy Pfund was fired. Vlade Divac and Anthony Peeler were the Lakers' leading scorers that year.
With the Clippers, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Memphis and Golden State cruising comfortably, the Lakers are chasing sixth-place Houston (21-15), Denver (21-16), Portland (19-15), Utah (19-18) and Minnesota (16-16) for the final three playoff spots.
All-Star forward Kevin Love will miss eight to 10 weeks after re-fracturing a bone in his right hand, so the Timberwolves probably can be scratched.
Denver is the type of team the Lakers hate — young and athletic — and the Nuggets currently hold the tiebreaker via their 2-1 head-to-head record. Houston is also 2-1 against the Lakers and shows few signs of slipping with James Harden.
It comes down to Portland (1-1 against the Lakers) and Utah (2-0 against the Lakers).
Portland is loving life with point guard Damian Lillard, a shoo-in for rookie of the year. Utah has already clinched the tiebreaker against the Lakers because they play each other only once more.
There's that drumbeat again. It's looking bleak for the Lakers.
"I'm sure at least half the people out there think that," Nash said. "Some might be a little more optimistic. I know one thing: Guys aren't giving up, they're fighting."
The Lakers actually threw together a sturdy short-handed effort at San Antonio before losing, 108-105.
Time to celebrate? Not really.
"If we keep the energy and keep the team unity, then yeah, we can do anything we wanted to and we can make the playoffs and climb out of the ditch," Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni said. "But you can't do it sometimes and once a week or one quarter out of three or four. You just can't do that."
After trading for Nash and Howard last summer, the Lakers were supposed to play Oklahoma City in late May to determine who got Miami in the NBA Finals.
The possibilities were endless. The youthful blur, Russell Westbrook, against the savvy veteran (Nash). The all-around game of Kevin Durant against the brutish defense of Metta World Peace. Kobe Bryant trying to push away the apparent heirs to the West throne.
One problem. The Lakers are 12 games behind the Thunder in the standings.
At this point, they're much more apt to face Oklahoma City in the first round than the West finals.
There's just that small issue of actually making the playoffs.