Even without Kobe Bryant on the floor for the last two games, the Los Angeles Lakers fulfilled his bold guarantee that the team would make the playoffs after seeing the Utah Jazz fall to the Memphis Grizzlies 86-70 on Wednesday night. Then the Lakers improved their playoff position, winning without their best player and leader for the second straight game, as they defeated the Houston Rockets 99-95 in overtime.
The win vaults the Lakers past the Rockets for the seventh seed in the West, as the Lakers earned a tie-breaker against the Rockets while climbing to an identical 45-37 regular season record. The Lakers couldn’t have imagined they would be fighting so hard for a playoff spot at the beginning of the season, but considering where they came from to get here, the team couldn’t be more thrilled.
“From where we were 20 or 30 games ago, a seven (seed) is pretty good,” coach Mike D’Antoni said, according to ESPN.com. “We shouldn’t have been in that spot in the first place, but it’s our fault.”
The Lakers overcame plenty of injuries all season long and even in the last two games without Bryant, saw other players step in and get the job done. Steve Blake led the team with 24 points in the win against Houston and Pau Gasol posted his seventh career triple-double, as he scored 17 points, collected 20 rebounds and dished out 11 assists.
“We’ve fought through so much adversity already,” Gasol said. “We knew we could handle a little more.”
Dwight Howard also performed under pressure, scoring 16 points while collecting 18 rebounds as the Lakers closed out the regular season with five consecutive victories.
The Lakers’ next challenge will be taking down the N0. 2 seeded San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the West playoffs. The Lakers defeated the Spurs on Sunday without Bryant, but in a seven-game series with the Spurs playing their hardest, it could be a whole other ballgame. (166)