Lakers: Reality of final push sets in
Start the countdown. There are 10 games left on the schedule for this sometimes insufferable, yet still salvageable Los Angeles Lakers season. Four road games (or three if you don't count the one in L.A. against the Clippers with the Staples Center lights up). Six home games. Five games against teams above .500. Five games against teams below. And none of those other teams matter, if you ask Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni. "I think it's us playing against the Lakers," D'Antoni said before L.A. eked out a 120-117 win against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday, letting a 15-point fourth-quarter lead get cut all the way to two. "We got to do what we do." "Most of the time that will be enough," he said, "but we're just having a hard time finding consistency and keeping the ball moving and keeping defensive mental intensity all the time. That's going to be our key all the time. When we walk on the floor it's, 'OK, Lakers, who are you?'" Great question. Who are the Lakers with 10 games remaining? A group to cast off as first-round fodder for the likes of the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder? A group that has suffered far too many injuries (the latest being Metta World Peace, out at least six weeks following surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee) to be considered a contender? A group whose "championship" cry to end its huddles truly is laughable, as D'Antoni said just last week? Or are they something different? Are they a team that has the game's most dominant big man in Dwight Howard getting better by the day, as evidenced by his 25 points, 16 rebounds, five steals and five blocks against the Wolves? Are they a team that still has an all-time great in Kobe Bryant jamming the window open to squeeze one last run out of his prime? Are they a team with a coach and two-time MVP at point guard with championship ambitions to legitimize the ringless run they had in Phoenix together before? A team on a mission ever since its legendary owner, Dr. Jerry Buss, died? The narrative can be stretched, twisted, turned around to fit either identity. But the beauty of where the Lakers stand now -- with a little less than a month remaining in the season and clutching a one-game lead on the eighth and final playoff spot in the West -- is that they can write the only part of this year's story that will matter in the long run.
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