Lakers' surge could send another strong team to lottery
Posted: Monday January 13, 2003 6:30 PM
Updated: Tuesday January 14, 2003 1:31 PM
With victories in seven of their past nine games -- including four straight through Sunday -- the Lakers are starting to surge. While it is too early to say they’re back to championship form, it’s not too early to say they're back in the playoff chase. At 16-20, they were just three games behind the Timberwolves for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
The million-dollar question is, which Western team will get bumped if the Lakers do make the playoffs?
The Timberwolves? The Rockets? The Suns?
Dallas, Sacramento and San Antonio should make it easily, and Portland, Utah and Phoenix all appear safe for now. Houston should only get better as Yao Ming improves, and Minnesota now has Wally Szczerbiak back in uniform.
Injuries could play a role, of course. But if all these teams stay healthy, the Lakers are going to have to earn it. Either way, one quality Western team could be home for the postseason.
Dallas Mavericks The French Connection: The Mavs will add European sharpshooter Antoine Rigaudeau. With him and Popeye (Jones, not Doyle) among their cast, will anybody be able to stop this runaway train?
Sacramento Kings They routed the Nets in the Swamp last week by 36 points. Now Chris Webber and Co. have their sights set on Wednesday’s home showdown with the Mavs. Since starting 3-3, they were 25-7 through Sunday.
New Jersey Nets They shook off the embarrassment of the Kings debacle by spanking the Raptors on Friday. As they proved after last year’s Game 3 playoff collapse to the Celtics, they know how to bounce back.
Indiana Pacers Jermaine O’Neal says he’s finally feeling close to 100 percent, and they're starting to establish a killer instinct in close games. Through Sunday, they were 9-2 in games decided by four points or less.
Detroit Pistons Friday’s win at New Orleans was their fourth straight road victory and fourth straight OT win of the season. Meanwhile, Ben Wallace (ankle) should be back for a home-and-home set with thre Pacers this weekend.
San Antonio Spurs They beat the Celtics on Sunday to kick off a five-game, 14-day homestand, their longest in almost eight years. If Tony Parker can stay hot (18.1 points per game over his past 15), they could get on a roll.
Phoenix Suns They won at the Blazers last week to prove they can succeed away from home, but the loss of Penny Hardaway (thumb) for six to eight weeks could hurt. Joe Johnson and Casey Jacobsen will need to step up.
Portland Trail Blazers They’re suffering from dyspepsia after losing at Denver on Friday, their sixth straight loss at the Pepsi Center. But with the Cavs and Grizzlies due up next, they should regain their pop.
Through Saturday, forward Andrei Kirilenko ranked third in the NBA in field-goal percentage (53.5 percent). As a team, Utah led the league in field-goal percentage (46.9 percent), assists (25.2) and opponents’ rebounds (36.0).
Houston Rockets Yao Ming vows his sore knee won’t keep him out of his showcase week. Fellow rookie hotshot Amare Stoudemire and the Suns visit on Wednesday, followed by Shaq and the Lakers on Friday.
Minnesota Timberwolves Wally Szczerbiak (left toe) came back strong with 10 points in 16 minutes in Friday’s OT win over the Kings. He added 13 points in 15 minutes in Sunday’s loss to the Raptors.
Los Angeles Lakers They beat the Heat on Sunday to make it four straight victories, their longest win streak of the season. Now Shaq gets his long-awaited shot at likely All-Star starter Yao Ming, and this time he won’t be joking.
Boston Celtics With seven losses in nine games, including Sunday’s heartbreaker at the Spurs, Gang Green is feeling blue. Vin Baker was even near tears after getting a DNP-CD in Friday’s loss at Dallas.
New Orleans Hornets Their dreams of a big charge, thanks to a heavy home schedule, have been lost with the absence of Baron Davis (back). Now coach Paul Silas is just trying to keep the ship from sinking.
Orlando Magic Grant Hill is back. No, he’s not. Wait, yes, he is. Oh, never mind. We’ve lost track. Meanwhile, rumors of a deal for Kwame Brown or Antonio Daniels won’t do much to excite the masses.
Philadelphia 76ers They lost to the Magic on Sunday to make it six straight and nine of 10, including four straight at home. Meanwhile, in games Derrick Coleman has logged more than 19 minutes, they were 5-12.
Seattle SuperSonics They lost to the Cavs on Sunday to make it five straight and nine of 11, including three straight at home. Not even a rare start for Kenny Anderson could shake them out of their Sixers-like slump.
Milwaukee Bucks Yessir, Senator! The return of Toni Kukoc (thumb) had them on a modest two-game win streak through Sunday, but will news of a possible franchise sale by Sen. Herb Kohl disrupt their good vibe?
Golden State Warriors Troy Murphy is making a solid case for Most Improved Player. Through Sunday, he was the only player to increase his scoring (11.8) and rebounding (9.7) average by 5.0 or more in both categories.
Los Angeles Clippers Shut up and play: GM Elgin Baylor tells off Michael Olowokandi, after the free agent-to-be says he won’t be back next year. A brutal upcoming schedule will only add fuel to this growing brushfire.
Atlanta Hawks With consecutive wins over the Rockets and Hornets, new coach Terry Stotts is riding high going into Tuesday’s game in Milwaukee against his former boss, George Karl. But will the Big Dog (sore elbow) join the fight?
Chicago Bulls Through Sunday, they had lost 16 straight road games, tying the Grizzlies for the worst overall mark (1-16). However, upcoming dates at the Knicks, Heat and Hawks should help them snap the string.
New York Knicks They set a franchise record last week with five straight games decided by three points or less. They’re hoping to have an easier time ahead, with eight of their next 11 scheduled against losing clubs.
Memphis Grizzlies Who says J-Will and Hubie can’t get along? Under new coach Hubie Brown’s tutelage, Jason Williams is ranked seventh in the NBA in assists (7.5) and fifth in assists-per-turnover (3.4).
Denver Nuggets Marcus Camby (right hip) is eyeing a possible Jan. 20 return date, two days before a scheduled meeting against his former Knicks. Meanwhile they quietly won three of their first six games in January.
Miami Heat With Eddie Jones (ankle) and Travis Best (ankle) out of action, they went 0-5 on a dismal West Coast road trip in which they barely saw a lead. The good news is, Jones and Best should be back this week.
Toronto Raptors They beat the T’wolves on Sunday to snap their 12-game losing skid. But with Vince Carter (knee) expected to be out another three weeks, Lenny Wilkens is going to have a tough time hanging on to his job.
Cleveland Cavaliers Ricky Davis and Jumaine Jones combined to help them upset the Sonics in Seattle on Sunday. But at just 8-30 on the season, they are off to the franchise’s worst start since World B. Free’s '82-83 squad.