Lakers still playoff-bound after rocky season

Associated Press  |  Last updated April 18, 2013
Dwight Howard's first season with the Los Angeles Lakers has been filled with more twists, setbacks and disappointments than he ever imagined when he was traded last summer. He's still hoping the Lakers can come up with a few more surprises for the playoffs. Los Angeles reached the postseason as the Western Conference's seventh seed with an overtime victory over Houston on Wednesday night, outlasting every misfortune that befell the Lakers during one of the most tumultuous regular seasons in recent NBA history. They've even done it with Kobe Bryant watching the last two games from home, his season finished with a torn Achilles tendon. The overtime win capped a 28-12 surge for a star-studded club with enormous preseason expectations that have been long overshadowed by their slow start, a coaching change, a ridiculous injury list - and just the everyday madness of being the biggest sports stars in Hollywood. Howard could be forgiven for wanting a break from this nuttiness. Instead, the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent wants more. ''Everybody counted us out,'' Howard said. ''But one thing that I told the guys was that we've been through so much as a team this year, from the injuries to the rumors and everything that has happened. It could have made us separate from each other, but we stayed strong, stayed together, and we won for each other. We're happy that we're in the playoffs, but we're not done yet.'' Those preseason expectations have been pretty much forgotten everywhere except the Lakers' locker room. Their massive struggles haven't dented the Lakers' belief in their fundamental talent, and they're grateful for a chance at a fresh start in the playoffs against the second-seeded San Antonio Spurs, who closed the season with seven losses in 10 games, including the Lakers' 91-86 win over them last Sunday. ''We'll continue with the spirit that we've been playing with,'' said Pau Gasol, who had two triple-doubles in the Lakers' final three games. ''We'll try and carry the momentum into the playoffs.'' The Lakers weren't about to get excited about facing Tim Duncan and Tony Parker instead of powerful Oklahoma City, but the Spurs certainly seem to be a more favorable matchup. Los Angeles didn't lock it down until surviving overtime against the Rockets, but the Staples Center crowd roared when the Lakers finally finished their fifth straight win. ''It pretty much sums up the whole season,'' said Antawn Jamison, the Lakers' top bench scorer despite a sprained right wrist. ''We went through a whole lot of adversity, but this team showed character. We stayed positive, we played together as a team, and we got it going.'' Indeed, just about everything went wrong this season for the Lakers, but they topped every misadventure last Friday when they lost Bryant. The NBA's third-leading scorer this season is immobilized at home in front of his television, blowing up his teammates' phones at halftime and tweeting into the early morning. ''And to think some said we wouldn't make it,'' Bryant tweeted Wednesday night. The Lakers acquired Howard and Steve Nash last summer in moves designed to turn a good team into an immediate contender for a 17th NBA title. Never mind that nearly every champion in league history needed a significant stretch of togetherness and failure before raising a trophy: The Lakers' zealous worldwide fan base expected the same immediate success the club imagined. The Lakers then had a winless preseason, and coach Mike Brown was abruptly fired after a slow start. Mike D'Antoni arrived on crutches and tried to figure out a way for the big, slow Lakers to play his small, quick style. It didn't work, and the Lakers slumped to 17-25 with a loss at Memphis on Jan. 23. Beloved owner Jerry Buss then died in February, casting a pall on the rest of the season. But the Lakers spent the rest of the season digging out of their hole, and not even Nash's prolonged absence or Bryant's late injury managed to slow them. Although the Lakers didn't finish in the Western Conference's top four for the first time since 2007, they still avoided the embarrassment of missing the playoffs for just the second time in Bryant's 17 NBA seasons. Los Angeles' injury woes have been downright silly at times, with their top six scorers and key backups Steve Blake and Jordan Hill all enduring significant absences or major setbacks. Nash's first season with the Lakers has been mostly terrible, with the two-time MVP struggling to fit into whatever Lakers offense was in vogue during his intermittent stretches of good health. The 39-year-old with a perpetually creaky body hasn't played in April, and nobody is certain whether he'll return in the postseason, although D'Antoni remains optimistic his former Phoenix point guard can get back in serviceable shape. Gasol has recovered from a concussion and a serious foot injury this season, while Howard needed several months to get back to full strength after offseason back surgery and resulting conditioning problems. Howard shrugged off his limitations for most of the season, still playing strong defense and contributing sporadically on offense - both because of Bryant's ball dominance and Howard's inability to make free throws (49.2 percent). During their day off Thursday before returning to practice for Sunday's playoff opener in Texas, the Lakers likely weren't thinking about everything that went wrong. They're focused on what could still go right in this unpredictable season. ''We still believe in ourselves,'' Gasol said. ''We have to hustle and play with the intensity and focus we're been playing with, and we're going to give ourselves a chance. We're going to stay in games, and who knows what's going to happen?''
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Doc Rivers: Clippers have plan to let Paul Pierce retire as a Celtic

Another young 49er, Kaleb Ramsey, retires from NFL

Saints GM: Drew Brees’ contract situation is not a ‘distraction’

Tim Tebow: ‘I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in’

Olympic athletes warned about Rio's 'human crap' waters


T.J. Ward: Broncos defense doesn’t care who’s playing QB

Tokyo already dealing with rising costs for 2020 Olympics

Bears first-round pick Leonard Floyd carted off practice field

Report: Bills and Tyrod Taylor continue to talk extension

Report: Title contender planning to poach Curry from Warriors

Fitzpatrick on negotiations: I wouldn’t wish it on anybody

Diamondbacks nearing Daniel Hudson trade

Gabby Douglas can make USA Gymnastics history at Olympics

Week 3 will determine the Big Ten's reputation this season

Cam Talbot thinks the Oilers are close to making the playoffs

The new era of WWE SmackDown has liftoff

Vlade Divac: Cousins ‘most dominant player in the world’

Wild offer to make Prince's 'Let's Go Crazy' new goal song

Canucks don't dismiss acquiring player with past issues

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ordered to pay $900K to auction house

Six potential landing spots for Nick Foles

Jack Nicklaus puzzled by Tiger Woods' woes, golf absence

Brown responds to Marshall's high-stakes challenge

NBA News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

We asked Team USA: What other Olympic sport would you play?

Why Gary Bettman's CTE denial is cause for concern for NHL

WATCH: Inside the Nike SNKRS BOX in SF for Golden Air Celebration

WATCH: Five other uniforms Chris Sale should cut up

QUIZ: Name every Olympic event in which the USA has never won a gold medal

Five U.S. Olympians favored to win multiple gold medals

WATCH: What teams should join the Big 12?

One Gotta Go: Do NBA players really love NBA2K?

One Gotta Go: NBA players hate Facebook too

One Gotta Go: NBA players settle the fast food beef

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Follow Yardbarker