Of course, even the most zealous Laker fans knows they may not make the Finals… or the conference finals… or the conference semifinals.
Okay, there’s still a chance they won’t even make the playoffs — but who could ask for more?
Yeah, yeah, I know, titles, banners….
Hey, how fat a cat do you have to be to lament the failure to win their sixth title of the New Millenium — or twice as many as other team — and fail to appreciate what they have salvaged out of this car wreck, despite setback after setback and through recrimination after recrimination (It’s Jim Buss! It’s Mike D’Antoni! Kobe Bryant shoots too much! And what’s with this Dwight Howard guy?)
Think Kobe playing his heart out and his wheels off, in what may be as much his signature moment as coming out for Game 7 in 1970 became Willis Reed’s.
Think Kobe sucking it up and talking to the press he used to hold in contempt, showing how far he had come as a guy.
Think Lakers falling behind Golden State twice in the last 1:23 without him, rallying to win, getting the bad news about his injury and coming back to beat the Spurs.
Think about the season’s arc, from exhilaration to dismay and back.
We’re No. 1, Lakers land Howard and Steve Nash!
Oops — Nash gets hurt. Mike Brown gets axed. Phil Jackson gets interview. D’Antoni gets job. Lakes lose 20 of MDA’s first 32. Kobe and Dwight have issues, as, it seems, Dwight does with everyone.
Memphis — Team meeting where Kobe reportedly acknowledges he’s hard to play with, which would be a first in his career, inviting Dwight to tell him if he has problems with him.
Dwight says no problems at all, which is his standard answer for everything.
If this doesn’t sound like much of a catharsis — the more so when players return from the All-Star Game in a tizzy about Dwight dissing Kobe — the Lakers proceed to turn it around, anyway.
They’re 27-12 since and showing real progress.
For a month, they looked like a schoolyard team in a summer league, with Kobe taking over at the end or halftime or right after the opening tap.
Amazingly, along the way, they became an NBA team.
Pau Gasol went back into the starting lineup in a high-low post with Howard.
Voila, they could play together after all!
Earl Clark became a player.
Metta World Peace became lucid.
Steve Blake, who had stuggled for two seasons as a Laker, turned back into Steve Blake.
And, oh yes, D’Antoni, the guy Lakerdom loved to hate, the guy foisted on them instead of Phil, was the guy who pulled it together.
I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge I’ve been laughing at the notion of the Lakers getting out of the first round, and the one that says there’s a good matchup for them if the choices were the Spurs and Thunder.
I still don’t think they’ll get out of the first round — but I do think they’ll show up.
After that, a lot of things neither you or I ever imagined are possible, as the 2012-13 Lakers have shown, however belatedly.