Lakers’ playoff push is second half’s top story
by Sam Amick and Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY Sports
The NBA All-Star Game isn’t the halfway point of the season, but it’s a good time to regroup and look ahead to what’s in store for the stretch run.
USA TODAY Sports NBA reporters Sam Amick and Jeff Zillgitt preview the top five story lines for the final two months of the season:
1. Los Angeles Lakers saga
For the sake of the Lakers’ ill-fated chemistry, it may have been helpful if Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard had some time apart during the All-Star break. Alas, they were both named Western Conference starters and the daily questions about their so-called Super Team from the news media continued as a result. But you have to admit, it’s hard to get enough of these guys.
Yet even a break from the never-ending drama will do little to help their fading playoff hopes, as the Lakers (25-29) are still 3½ games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with 28 games to go. The continued absence of forward Pau Gasol (foot injury) doesn’t help matters, either, and he is expected to remain out for at least four more weeks. Add in the complete lack of cohesion between Steve Nash, Howard, Bryant and the rest, and the once-unthinkable notion of the Lakers missing the playoffs is very realistic.
The one advantage in their favor: Just 14 of their final 32 games are on the road, which will come in handy considering they’re one of the worst road teams in the league (9-18). Fourteen of those games are against teams that currently have a winning record.
2. MVP race (of one?)
It’s not a one-man race, but Miami Heat forward LeBron James has the lead and looking like he will cross the finish line first with two months left in the season.
It’s like Usain Bolt in the 100 meters with countryman Yohan Blake right behind — Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant is Blake in this race. Durant should get an MVP someday, but it’s going to be difficult to win it this season with James playing the way he is — seven consecutive games … [For more on Lakers' playoff push is second half's top story line, click here.]