By Mitch Chortkoff
My head is spinning as I leave Staples Center Sunday night. There are so many Laker topics to discuss.
The Lakers have just beaten the Detroit Pistons, 113-99 and fans are celebrating as if an NBA championship has been won.
They’re so happy because they get free tacos since the opponent didn’t score 100 points. On the last two possessions the Pistons miss shots and the crowd reacts as if the Lakers will get extra points in the standings.
But here’s the reality. Eight teams qualify for a Western Conference playoff berth and three weeks into the season the Lakers rank 12th.
Teams who didn’t make the playoffs last season are playing better than the Lakers. I’m talking about Minnesota, Portland, Phoenix and Dallas. San Antonio is off to another great start and Oklahoma City, Golden State and the Clippers appear out of reach.
But beating an average Detroit team was far better than losing. And Jordan Hill played a great game. He’s a big help.
Anyway, I’m glad fans haven’t lost hope. And I’m glad they still appreciate Laker greats of the recent past.
James Worthy was shown on the message board because he was filling in for Stu Lantz on the Lakers’ radio broadcast. Lantz, who has a long history on the job, was ill. Worthy was loudlycheered by the fans.
Worthy also got my attention in the press room before the game. We were talking when he spotted a large man dining at another table.
“Oh, my God,” he said. “My back still hurts.”
Worthy headed to the seat occupied by the big man, Rick Mahorn, the former Detroit power forward who was working on the Pistons’ radio broadcast.
As Worthy referred to his back hurting he playfully blamed Mahorn for blocking him out during their playing days, particularly the 1994 NBA Finals when the Pistons defeated the Lakers.
The friendly rivals hugged and then chatted briefly.
And my mind wandered to those years when I was the beat writer who traveled with Laker teams.
In those years fans’ optimism was frequently rewarded. Championships would sometimes be the result.
But, darn it, that was then and this is now.
Bryant participated in a practice last week for the first time since he tore an Achilles late last season.
But Coach Mike D’Antoni cautions us that Bryant will miss a lot more games.
Practicing at about 60 per cent was only the first step.
“I’m capable of playing tonight,” Bryant said last week. “If this was a playoff game I probably would be playing.
“I don’t know how well I’d play but I’d be playing.”
But it wouldn’t make sense for Bryant to play now and risk getting hurt again, an injury that could end his career.
The Lakers have slipped so far in the standings that former NBA coach George Karl wonders if Kobe can save the team this season.
It’s reasonable to believe the Lakers aren’t going to make the playoffs, but if Kobe can play well next season they’ll do better. Maybe a free agent such as Carmelo Anthony will arrive next season too.
So my head spins as I await the next game Friday night against an exciting Golden State team.
My expectations aren’t high for this Laker team but I hope fans will witness enough victories to keep the tacos coming.