Can Lakers big men lead team to playoffs?
by Sam Amick, USA TODAY Sports
LOS ANGELES — If the Los Angeles Lakers not named Kobe Bryant wanted to take the not so subtle approach before tonight’s possible do-or-die game against the Houston Rockets to make the playoffs, they would replace those nameplates above their Staples Centers lockers with replicas of their distinguished resumes.
*Dwight Howard: Three-time Defensive Player of the Year, NBA Finals appearance in 2009.
*Pau Gasol: Two-time NBA champion, four-time All-Star.
*Metta World Peace: One-time NBA champion, one-time Defensive Player of the Year.
*Antawn Jamison: Two-time All-Star, 58 points from becoming the 39th to reach 20,000 for his career.
To put it in the parlance of professional sports, it is – even without Bryant – nothing short of an Alpha dog kennel.
“I think they know they can step up,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “It’s like we’ve talked about, there’s so many guys you can put in the front seat and somebody has got to take a backseat. And now they’re scrambling over that seat to get in the front seat. That’s normal. That’s human nature.
“Yeah, they’re a very confident group. … And now we’ve shifted the focus, and that’s OK. It’s one of those things where it’s (like,) ‘OK, it’s too bad, but let’s go forward and see what we can do.’ ”
Bryant tearing an Achilles tendon Friday eliminated him from the lineup, so it’s on to what can they do without him – not only with the win to make the playoffs, even if the contending Utah Jazz beat the Memphis Grizzlies, but to last beyond a brief moment in the postseason.
Which is why the mood at Lakers practice Tuesday was so fascinating. Teammates who respect Bryant’s accomplishments, who revere his drive and sympathize with his plight, were reluctant to say his absence gives them the sort of chance to stand out that went missing all season. With or without Bryant, there is no shortage of pride and ego on this team that, largely because of injuries, has underachieved. Steve Nash tonight will miss his eighth game in a row (hip, back and hamstring soreness) but the Lakers are hopeful he would be available in … [For more on Lakers big men on the spot to get L.A. the playoff spot, click here.]