Dwight's Health, Kobe's Drive Are Only 2 of Numerous Reasons Lakers Can Contend

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IFebruary 25, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 02:  Dwight Howard #12 and Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers leave the court during a 113-103 Orlando Magic win at Staples Center on December 2, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant recently guaranteed that his team would not only qualify for the 2013 NBA Playoffs, but they would also be competitive once they got there.

However no one besides Bryant's teammates and die-hard fans appear to be taking his promise seriously.

Most analysts and pundits have already decided that any hope for the postseason for these Lakers is dead on arrival, and the common thread in numerous opinions is that the Lakers have lost far too much ground to catch up now.

Come again?

Last I checked the Lakers are 2.5 games behind the Houston Rockets for the eighth seed with 25 games left to play, which is not insurmountable by any means.

Of course the margin of error for Los Angeles is extremely tight, but counting the Lakers out of the postseason right now would be just as ridiculous as assuming that they can't make up a 2.5-game deficit over the next 25 games.

In case you haven't noticed, things have begun to look up lately for the Lakers, and Kobe's passion and drive and Howard's improving health are not the only reasons the sun is shining a little brighter on the franchise.

Bryant and Howard are indeed the main cogs in the Lakers engine, and it doesn't hurt that as Howard seems to be getting healthier Bryant is definitely feeling hungrier.

The Lakers are 3-0 since the All-Star break and the death of legendary owner Jerry Buss. In that span Bryant and Howard have both had two very impressive performances, and one subpar showing each.

Howard was spectacular in the Lakers win over the Boston Celtics and for maybe the first time this season he was able to exhibit consistent dominance on both ends of the court.

The 24 point and 12 rebounds against Boston were nice, but the athleticism and spring in Howard's legs may have been the most encouraging aspect for the Lakers going forward.

You could tell that Howard's timing is still off a bit as many of the Celtics' shot attempts in the paint were just beyond Howard's reach, but it's also positive for the Lakers that the issue seems to be about timing and not about lift.

Howard was dominant yet again in the Lakers next win over the Portland Trail Blazers, turning in a 19-point, 16-rebound performance. This time Bryant joined him with 40 points of his own, and Bryant was even better in the Lakers third straight victory over the Dallas Mavericks.

While Howard struggled with foul trouble, Bryant picked him up by scoring 38 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and dishing out seven assists to lead the Lakers to victory.

Those three games have proved the Lakers can still be a great team when Bryant and Howard are in tune and focused, and they can still be very good when one of them isn't.

Beating Boston, Portland and Dallas is nothing to get excited about, but the Lakers have been losing tight games like this all season and finding the will to win builds character and confidence.

And confidence for a team with Bryant and Howard can be a scary proposition when you consider the rest of the team might be improving as well.

Head coach Mike D'Antoni may still seem strategically clueless at times, but I'm sure he has some input on how the Lakers have occasionally attacked in transition, and used the pick and roll as a secondary break on offense.

D'Antoni has also humbled himself and let the experience of Bryant and Nash guide the Lakers through one of the roughest patches in recent Lakers history.

The Lakers reserves have played below expectations for most of the season, but as D'Antoni has begun to rely on an eight man rotation that includes Antawn Jamison, Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks, the bench has been more productive.

Jamison, Meeks and Blake have averaged a combined 28.1 points per game during the Lakers three game win streak, and if they can maintain that type of effort imagine how good the Lakers reserves might be once Pau Gasol and possibly Jordan Hill return?

And just how good can the Lakers be if Nash keeps getting more comfortable playing beside Bryant and with his role as the team's deadliest three-point threat?

Are the Lakers still an eight seed team if Bryant keeps playing with the same determination and scowl, and Howard keeps backing him up with words and effort?

The Lakers still have three of the greatest players at their respective positions in the NBA, and they might finally be finding their groove.

If the Lakers can get healthy and remain that way then the eight seed might be aiming a little low.

With 25 games left it's not impossible to think the Lakers can make up the couple games they trail the Rockets and possibly catch Golden State as well.

Neither of those teams have much experience when it comes to qualifying for the postseason in tight conference races, and the Lakers years of combined playoff experience could prove vital if the situation arises.

There are still issues the Lakers must overcome like finding some consistency on defense, but if the Lakers continue to improve who really wants to face them in the postseason?

Bryant's guarantee was mostly dismissed because so many other players have made the same gesture under similar pretenses and failed miserably.

But few of those players have possessed Bryant's individual drive and legacy of success on a championship stage.

And none of them have had as talented a supporting cast when healthy.

The Lakers still have an opportunity to be the biggest bust in professional sports history, but they also have a chance to be its greatest story.


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