The Lakers have won their last three games, despite being without center Dwight Howard, who has a torn labrum. While the team is now only three games behind Houston for the eighth seed in the West, the Lakers cannot afford to have Howard miss any more games.
We need some urgency. Dwight has never been in a position where someone has driven him as hard as I have, as hard as this organization has. It's win a championship or everything is a complete failure. That's just how we do it. And that's foreign to him.
Not only are the Lakers an organization that expects to compete for a championship every year, but the team has a roster that must have a strong sense of urgency. Seven of the top nine Lakers in minutes played are 30 or older. The only two exceptions are Howard and Earl Clark; both will be free agents at the end of the season.
With their veteran-laden roster and the risk of losing Howard to free agency, the Lakers have to find a way to make the playoffs for a chance at a championship. Since Howard has been out, that task has become more difficult with an injury to Pau Gasol. He has suffered a torn plantar fascia, according to NBA.com, and could miss significant time.
With Gasol out and backup Jordan Hill done for the season, the Lakers are extremely thin in their frontcourt. Clark had already been playing significant minutes as a small-ball power forward. Now the only other big men on the roster are Antawn Jamison and rookie Robert Sacre.
An injured Howard is still an enormous upgrade over Jamison or Sacre, and the Lakers don't have enough margin for error to be giving away wins while Howard spends his time with the trainers.
The Lakers have an important stretch of schedule upcoming. Starting tonight against Boston, five of their next eight games are against teams that would qualify for the playoffs if the season ended today. That doesn't include games against Portland and Dallas, the teams immediately ahead and behind the Lakers in the conference standings.
It is now or never for the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers. Key players are hurt and the roster is aging quickly, yet the team is surging and within striking distance of the seven or eight seed in the West.
They have to find a way to get Howard onto the court, regardless of his shoulder injury. Howard's future, and that of his shoulder, very well may not include the Lakers.