"Never tell me the odds," -Han Solo
These Los Angeles Lakers are going to the playoffs, according to Kobe Bryant. Yes, this inconsistent 2012-2013 team stocked with stars and sporadically mired in dysfunction will participate in the upcoming 2013 NBA Playoffs, according to Bryant. During an interview with Jack McCallum of Sports Illustrated after the NBA's All-Star break, Bryant was quite clear about his team's playoff chances.
"It's not a question of if we make the playoffs. We will," Bryant told McCallum. "And when we get there, I have no fear of anyone -- Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Denver ... whoever. I have zero nervousness about that."
Even though they may have steadied the ship in February after a disastrous start to the 2013 portion of the schedule, the Lakers (28-30) are currently sitting in the ninth spot in the Western Conference and 2.5 games out of the playoff picture. The Dwight Howard drama continues, Pau Gasol remains sidelined and the most notable news about Steven Nash is that he reportedly doesn't regret coming to Los Angeles. At center of it all, Bryant is doing everything he can to talk, play and tweet his team into contention and restore some of the sneering swagger it had just a few seasons ago.
Aside from issuing his playoff guarantee to McCallum, Bryant has authored both a vintage 38-point game to top the Mavericks (another outside-looking-in club hoping to photobomb the playoff picture) and a retaliatory tweet at Mark Cuban. Like Han Solo taking the rickety Millenium Falcon into an asteroid field, Bryant expects to come out the other side of the team's regular season schedule unscathed and with a playoff berth (also like Solo, Kobe would have shot first). Odds, doubters and Cuban be damned.
The Lakers' path to either the postseason or the offseason continues on Thursday night with a visit from the Minnesota Timberwolves (20-34). Ahead of the NBA's three-game Thursday slate, Kobe and company had a 39.9% chance of reaching the postseason, according to the NBA Playoff Odds created by John Hollinger at ESPN.com. In their last outing, a 119-108 loss to the Nuggets in Denver, the Lakers missed a chance to reach .500 for the season. To mount a serious pursuit of a playoff spot, Mike D'Antoni's apparently mismatched charges will have to first get on the right side of that figure. With that accomplished, the Lakers could set their sights on the Golden State Warriors (33-25), Utah Jazz (31-27) and Houston Rockets (31-28). According to those odds at ESPN, the Jazz (61.4%) are the most vulnerable team of the trio entering Thursday, with the Warriors (92% ) and Rockets (97.2%) overwhelmingly favored to clinch playoff spots. For the Lakers to grab even the eight seed, one of those clubs will likely need to swoon as the Lakers finally surge.
Coming down the stretch, the Lakers and Warriors match up twice (a home game each). The Rockets, meanwhile, visit the Staples Center on the final day of the regular season for a game that could become a de facto one-game playoff if everything shakes out just right.
Here are the 24 remaining games on the Lakers' schedule. Can they leapfrog a team in the standings to get into the postseason?