The Lakers spent the entire second half of the season just hoping they would sneak into the Western Conference’s eighth playoff spot, but their incredibly resilient play down the stretch earned them the seventh seed, as they defeated the Houston Rockets 99-95 in overtime, while the Utah Jazz lost to the Memphis Grizzlies 86-70 just before the Laker game tipped off.
Despite being without Kobe Bryant for the second straight game, the Lakers got the job done and fulfilled Bryant’s guarantee that the Lakers would make the playoffs. Steve Blake scored 24 points and Pau Gasol picked up his seventh career triple-double with 17 points, 20 rebounds and 11 assists in Bryant’s absence.
“I’m proud of the whole team and the way they stepped up at the end of the year,” said Blake, according to ESPN.com. “We definitely expected more at the beginning of the year, but we’re proud we’re here. … I couldn’t believe it when a couple of days ago somebody said we even had a chance to be in the seventh spot, and now we’re there.”
The win catapults Los Angeles over Houston in the standings since L.A. has the tie-breaker with the win from yesterday. The Lakers will now face No. 2 seed San Antonio in the first round of the West playoffs, a team that the Lakers beat without Bryant or Steve Nash a few short days ago.
Although it’s hard to celebrate a seventh seed for a franchise that is accustom to such better results, the team was thrilled to be in their current position considering how they battled to get there.
“From where we were 20 or 30 games ago, a seven (seed) is pretty good,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We shouldn’t have been in that spot in the first place, but it’s our fault.”
The Lakers also have to be thrilled that they’ll be taking on the Spurs – a team that they won 2-of-4 against this season -rather than the Thunder. The young and talented Thunder present too many match-up problems for the Lakers, especially without Bryant, whereas the elder Spurs play a little more at the Lakers pace. Still, without Bryant and Nash, winning a seven-game series spent mostly on the road will be no easy task for the Lakers against one of the Western Conference’s best teams.
At the outset, I still have to lean towards the Spurs, but this is about the most favorable match-up the Lakers could get in the first round. So, knowing that, I like the Lakers to make this a real series and extend it to six, possibly seven games, but it’s hard to imagine them going further without the player who willed them to even make the postseason.