The Los Angeles Lakers may be 13-13 and a game-and-a-half out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference, but head coach Mike D'Antoni feels that his team has what it takes to qualify for the postseason, despite the recent announcement that Kobe Bryant will miss six weeks with a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee.
"Yeah, we can do that," D'Antoni said before the Lakers' 104-91 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night, according to ESPN's Dave McMenamin. "Yes."
The Lakers certainly took a step in the right direction on Friday when they trounced the Timberwolves behind 25 points from Nick Young and 21 points apiece from interim starting point guard Xavier Henry and Pau Gasol to improve their record sans Bryant to 11-9.
And if you've been watching the Lakers all season long, then you're well aware of the difference in the team's energy with Kobe in and out of the lineup, something that B/R's Andrew Bailey discussed following Friday night's win:
On Friday against the T'Wolves, coach Mike D'Antoni saw his Lakers running and gunning again. They scored 19 fast break points (up from the 9.7 they averaged with Kobe in the lineup).
The difference in energy level is so clear it can't be ignored. And the difference in chemistry might be even more obvious, and more important.
When Kobe was playing, everything seemed geared toward integrating him, involving him, trying to find a role.
However, while D'Antoni is remaining positive, he's well aware that the Lakers are facing an uphill battle, per McMenamin:
It's difficult every year, D'Antoni said of the Western Conference. The last two, three years, you win two more [games], you lose two more, you're either 12th place or fifth place. That's just the way the West is. It's been that way for a number of years. There's some really good teams, and you have to win the games that you're favored, for sure, and you can't kick any away.
With those numbers in mind, it's also necessary that the Lakers beat up on as many Eastern Conference opponents as possible in Bryant's absence. So far this season, the Lakers are 5-3 against the East and 8-10 against the West.
The good news for L.A. is that they have favorable matchups upcoming against Eastern foes in the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks, and they will also square off against the West's bottom-feeding Utah Jazz twice in the span of eight days starting on Dec. 27.
In addition to the improved play of Young, Henry and the team's slew of veteran minimum contributors, the Lakers will soon be getting point guard Jordan Farmar back in the fold, as he's yet to rule out a return on Christmas Day, according to the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina.
Farmar, who averages 4.4 assists per game, actually ranks tied for fifth among all players in points created by assists per 48 minutes, according to the NBA's SportVU player tracking data, generating 27.4 a night.
They may not look like a playoff team on paper, but the Lakers have embraced a team-first approach and fun-loving swagger that's been much-needed in Bryant's absence.