By Michael Zavala
Just like nearly all their games in the second half of the NBA
season, the Lakers have waited until the last minute to retake the
Western Conference lead from the Hornets and the Spurs.It’s about
Their game Friday against New Orleans at the Staples Centers
showed how willing they are to give the Lakers fan base a
collective heart attack before the playoffs begin Saturday.
A 30-point lead nearly demolished when Peja Stojakovic hit that
3-pointer in the fourth quarter. I did my best Redd Foxx
impersonation when that ball fell through the net.
Thankfully, the Lakers decided that, yes, it would probably be a
good idea to win the game. There hasn’t been a bigger sigh escaping
my mouth than the one I heaved after Derek Fisher’s 3-pointer gave
the Lakers a six-point lead with 3:07 left in the game.
Though New Orleans lost the game, 107-104, and eventually the
lead in the West after the Kings beat it 97-94 the next day, it
proved to anyone with lingering doubts that it will be a team
people should fear in the postseason.
I know I would be a bit nervous taking on a Hornets squad hungry
for vengeance in the Western Conference finals. Chris Paul is a
competitive player, and he isn’t going to forget the games that
slipped away any time soon.
Lakers fans should also be thankful Kobe Bryant and company
didn’t go through the trouble of keeping San Antonio around once
the third quarter rolled around Sunday.
Sure, the Spurs were without Manu Ginobili, but it was a strong
statement game nonetheless. San Antonio is a solid team with a lot
of experience; however, that 106-85 beatdown the Lakers handed them
showed the Spurs need to work hard to keep up with younger, more
athletic teams like the Hornets and Lakers.
Of course, the No. 1 seed isn’t a sure thing, even now. The
Lakers still have Sacramento left to defeat tonight.
Going to Arco Arena and getting a win is never easy. The way Los
Angeles is playing right now, though, it can definitely take the
win, even if it gives up a 30-point lead in the process.
Pau Gasol is a big part of that. He’s back in sync with the
offense after missing a few weeks with that ankle injury. Gasol has
averaged 18.3 points per game since his return, which is a mere
fraction of a point below his season average of 18.9 per game.
Getting Andrew Bynum back at near full strength would be nice,
but it’s better for the Lakers if they play as if he isn’t going to
return. The tag team of Gasol and Lamar Odom is fine as long as
Odom doesn’t disappear once the postseason begins.
Hopefully, they won’t have to worry about that against their
potential first round opponent, the Nuggets. Denver can light it
up, but it also gets lit up, so as long as the Lakers keep
countering, they’ll be fine.
If not, I’ll have 9-1-1 on speed dial.
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