There’s nothing we can do about it now. What’s in the past, is in the past. The Lakers awful start to the 2012-13 season was nothing that anyone envisioned when the team acquired Dwight Howard and Steve Nash in the offseason.
In addition to lofty expectations, the team has had to deal with injuries to four of their top-six players, including a season-ender to back-up center/power forward/spark plug Jordan Hill. All you can really do is shake your head. Even though the effort hasn’t been there too much of the time, a lot of is just plain ol’ bad luck. If, like me, you believe that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, then you are fully aware of how much good luck the Lakers have had over the years.
In 1960, the team’s plane got lost in a snowstorm and successfully landed in an Iowa cornfield.
In 1979, a coin toss was to determine who would get the first pick in the draft. The Bulls called heads. It was tails. The Lakers drafted Magic Johnson.
In 1980, the Lakers traded Don Ford, who was averaging three points per game at the time, along with a first-round pick in that summer’s draft to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Butch Lee and the Cavs’ first-round pick in 1982. The Cavs finished the 1981-82 season with a 15-67 record, giving the Lakers a chance at the first overall pick. That’s not all. The Lakers still had to win a coin toss with the San Diego Clippers. Since neither team wanted to call it, then-commissioner Larry O’Brien assigned heads to the Lakers and tails to the Clippers. It came up heads. The Lakers drafted James Worthy.
**Without a doubt, Ralph Sampson would have been the first overall pick in the 1982 NBA Draft but he opted to return to the University of Virginia for his senior season. Sampson’s NBA career was constantly derailed by injuries. In the final six seasons of his nine-year career, he would play in only 43, 48, 61, 26, 25, and 10 games, respectively. So I guess you could add that to the list of Lakers luck. However, Sampson is single-handedly responsible for the worst memory of my childhood, so it wasn’t all good luck.
My point being, as bad as things have gone, you’ve lost the right to sulk or feel sorry for yourself. The Lakers can only hope that last week was the zenith of the bad luck they’ll experience this season. Things can’t get much worse than losing your three best big men before three extremely tough games, while already three games below .500.
That’s why Mike D’Antoni’s proclamation after Sunday night’s win over the Cleveland Cavaliers that the Lakers were 1-0 is the right approach. The Lakers can’t worry about the past, they can’t worry about what other teams are doing or what critics are saying, they can only worry about themselves.
Disregard all the statistics being thrown out there regarding playoff probabilities and whatnot. For anyone to declare a team out of the playoffs in the middle of January is complete nonsense. As of Monday morning, the Lakers were four games behind Portland for the last playoff spot with 45 games remaining. That’s a lot of games. In other words, how can anyone declare the Lakers dead when, mathematically speaking, they could be tied with Portland by next week?
In addition to Portland, the Lakers are also three games behind Utah for 9th place and a game-and-a-half back of Minnesota.
Here’s the bad news: a top-4 seed would require every player on the Thunder, Spurs, Clippers, and Grizzlies to contract mononucleosis. The 5th seed is out of the question too because there are so many teams between them and the 5th seed right now.
Here’s the good news: The Lakers have had the league’s 7th-most difficult schedule this season based on their opponent’s won-loss percentage. The Trail Blazers are currently 20th.
More bad news: The Jazz have played 39 games this season and only 15 were at home. They are 11-4 at home.
More good news: The Jazz have three of the most intriguing expiring contracts this year, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, and Mo Williams. Even if none of them is traded, expect the trade deadline to become more of an unwelcome distraction the closer we get to it.
More bad news: Minnesota has had the 8th-most difficult schedule this season and have four more home games left than road games.
More good news (and I hate referring to this as ‘good’ news): The Timberwolves will be without Kevin Love for the next two months.
So your job for the time being is to root against the Blazers, Jazz, and Timberwolves. At this point, nothing else matters besides those three things and Lakers victories.
The 2002-03 Lakers were 24-23 at the All-Star break and would finish the season 50-32. That team didn’t win a title but they turned their season around and ended up losing to the eventual champions that year. If this team can find a way to win 50 games, it would require the type of turnaround that would scare every team in the Western Conference from wanting to play them in the first round.
Sunday’s win over Cleveland wasn’t the Mona Lisa. 22 turnovers is never ideal. But there were signs that this team is ready to put forth the effort it will take to turn this thing around. If they can go 6-2 over these next 8 games, five of which are at home, then they’ll head out on the seven-game Grammy road trip at 22-23. Anything worse than 4-4, with 21 of their final 35 on the road, probably means we can stick a fork in the season.
So it’s now or never for the Lakers. And right now they’re 1-0.