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Lakers find their legs in Texas

A fine trip clinches the Pacific Division and an automatic playoff spot.

March 14, 2009|Mike Bresnahan

Now that was interesting.

Just when it looked as if the Lakers would curl into a collective fetal position because of a ruinous road trip, they unfurled a two-game twister through Texas that almost rivaled their two-game spree in Boston and Cleveland last month.

They gave Houston problems without Lamar Odom and then toppled San Antonio a day later with what should have been a tired, fatigued team.

Instead, Spurs forward Tim Duncan called the Lakers "the best team in the league right now," and the San Antonio Express-News used a thick, bold-faced headline of "Same Old L.A. Story" to describe the Lakers' recent dominance over the Spurs (4-1 in last season's Western Conference finals, 2-1 so far this season).

"We have to give credit to the coaching staff for the success of these last two games," Kobe Bryant said. "We as players also deserve credit for going back to the basics and playing solid defense."

With their 102-95 victory over the Spurs, the Lakers clinched the Pacific Division and an automatic playoff spot, not that any of them really cared. In fact, they were more enthralled by the idea of rest and recuperation after Coach Phil Jackson canceled practice Friday.

"Pau's played a lot of minutes," Jackson said.

Pau Gasol logged 41 against San Antonio and 43 against Houston, moving his season average up to 36.6 a game.

He had 23 points and 11 rebounds against the Spurs, and 20 points and five rebounds against Houston. He shot a combined 57.6% in the games.

"I'm competing really hard out there," Gasol said. "That's what it takes to come in places like Houston and San Antonio and win. Obviously, my body's sore and my legs are pretty tired, but I'm trying to do my job. Right now, I'm looking forward to some rest and then getting ready for Dallas."

Not only are the Lakers (52-13) home for a few games, they also catch a break in the schedule.

Of their next 10 games, only two are against teams with decent records, including Sunday's matinee against Dallas (40-26).

Then they play host to Philadelphia (32-31) and Golden State (23-42), followed by a season-high seven-game trip that will be more daunting for its length (13 days) than quality of opponents (a combined 204-255).

On the trip, the Lakers will face Chicago (29-37), Oklahoma City (18-47), Detroit (33-31), New Jersey (28-37), Atlanta (38-28), Charlotte (28-37) and Milwaukee (30-38). The Hawks are the only team to show a hint of consistency this season, though they linger well behind Cleveland, Boston and Orlando in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Lakers have managed to stay in the hunt for the top record in the league despite losing center Andrew Bynum six weeks ago.

Now they have a chance to tuck away more victories between now and April 1, the trip finale against the Bucks.

"We had a very positive mentality when we started both of these last two games," Gasol said. "We need to have this positive mentality with every road game."

Fisher's fling

A trip to San Antonio for an important game always seems to evoke discussions of Derek Fisher's series-saving turnaround with 0.4 of a second left in Game 5 of the 2004 Western Conference semifinals.

Jackson rarely heaps superlatives on players or events, but he had only positive reflections on Fisher's shot, calling it one of the "top five that we've seen.

"It's a miraculous finish in a game that wasn't just his shot," Jackson said. "It was the fact there were three or so shots like that in the course of that game that just kept going back and forth and made that so interesting a game."

When asked for the best shot he'd ever seen in a game he coached, Jackson referred back to Game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference finals.

"I would say Horry's shot," he said.

Robert Horry ended a frantic finish after Sacramento Kings center Vlade Divac slapped a rebound out toward the three-point line -- but right to Horry, whose last-second shot kept the Lakers on track for a third consecutive championship.


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