They enter Thursday's game against the Boston Celtics with a 14-11 record and a seventh playoff-seed. That's hardly satisfying for an organization fixated on championships. The Lakers have dropped two of their first three games of a six-game trip. That hardly assuages the Lakers' 3-9 road record. They remain at the bottom of the league in several statistical categories, including total offense (20th) and three-point shooting (29th). That hardly suggests much progress.
But Jerry West sees otherwise.
"The Lakers will be very dangerous in the playoffs," West said in a phone interview Thursday with The Times. "They need rest between games. The way they're playing now on the road, they haven't had the kind of success they need. But they're still very capable."
These days, West remains more consumed with other things besides the Lakers. He's served as an advisor for the Golden State Warriors' executive board. He's also serving his third year as executive director for the Northern Trust Open, which tees off at Riviera Country Club Feb.14-19. But he's also kept an eye on the Lakers. Even though West conceded that many of the Lakers' performances have been "spotty" and "looked like exhibition games," he said most of the blame hinged on the transition involving a new coaching staff under Mike Brown.
"You have a new coach and don't have the same cast of characters around," West said. "I think it's a learning curve for everyone."
West remained noncommittal on whether the Lakers should make a trade before the March 15 deadline. But serving a 14-year playing career and then 18 seasons as the Lakers' general manager gives him a good idea how the organization thinks.
"Knowing the Lakers, Mitch [Kupchak] and Jerry Buss and their desire to win," West said, "they'll pretty much look at anything that will help them win."
But should they remain status quo, West maintains his optimism about the Lakers' championship chances for several reasons.
Kobe Bryant's posted a league-leading 29.3 points per game, despite nursing a torn ligament in his right wrist all season. "Anytime you have Kobe Bryant on your team, you're dangerous," West said.
Andrew Bynum's faced an adjustment period with increased double teams. Pau Gasol's faced an adjustment period with falling below Bynum in the pecking order. But it's still hard for any teams to match two 7-footers combining for 33.5 points and 22.5 rebounds per game. "They have two big guys who can dominate the paint and score around the paint," West said.
The only question remains whether the Lakers can improve their bench, which West said "usually what decides playoff series." That's bad news for the Lakers' reserves, which have suffered numerous problems this season.
Backup point guard Steve Blake will likely play in Boston after missing the past 13 games because of a rib injury. The backup small forward spot has seen a dizzying array of combinations, including Metta World Peace (19 games as a reserve), Matt Barnes (seven) and Devin Ebanks (eight). Brown has yet to iron out a definitive role for Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy. And the bench has been outscored 144-49.
Still, West insists the Lakers will see better days.
"I would never, ever discount them," he said. "They're a very good team, regardless of what people might say."
— Mark Medina
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