Stretch Run No Cakewalk for Lakers


Step 1 wasn’t pretty, a 16-point halftime deficit that became a 101-89 loss Wednesday night to the Utah Jazz, a team that has won 14 games in a row. But things get easier for the Lakers the next game.

That opponent only has a 10-game winning streak as of today.

Welcome to their life. Minefield of dreams.

The Jazz, the hottest team in the league, on Wednesday. The Suns, the second hottest, on Friday, although Phoenix will play the night before at Sacramento. A warmup for Sunday against . . . the Jazz!

Three days off follow for the Lakers before the only non-playoff opponent of the final six games, the Sacramento Kings. Then come the Clippers, apparently bound for No. 8 in the Western Conference but 2-1 against the Lakers, at the Sports Arena in the second of successive games. Finally, the regular-season finale at Portland, what by then could be a first-round preview.


In other words, the Lakers are walking a playoff tightrope, having just dropped from second to fourth in the West because of the loss before 19,911 at the Delta Center, and the schedule has been dropped on their foot like an anvil. It’s pay-back for a favorable run without Shaquille O’Neal and Robert Horry, one they capitalized on to get in this position.

“Without a doubt,” Jerome Kersey said, acknowledging the imposing stretch to end the regular season. “Some of the top teams in the division and the conference. But we’re one of the top teams too.”

But not the top team in the Pacific. Wednesday’s defeat, which also clinched home-court advantage for the Jazz until at least the finals, a nice ally for a team that’s 35-3 at home, dropped the Lakers out of a first-place tie with the Seattle SuperSonics.

The deficit is now half a game, which sounds workable enough, especially since the Lakers also hold the tiebreaker advantage. Workable enough, that is, until the schedule is factored in.

They get trouble. The SuperSonics?

They get the Dallas Mavericks, the San Antonio Spurs, the Houston Rockets, the Spurs again, the Denver Nuggets and the Clippers. Six games. Two against playoff teams. Four against teams that today have winning percentages of .303 or less.

Things aren’t much better for the Lakers in the battle with the Rockets for No. 3 in the West. Houston, you have an advantage.


The Rockets, who can finish with the second-best record in the conference but can’t get the No. 2 seeding because that has to go to the other division champion, also now have a half-game lead over the Lakers. And the Rockets win in a tiebreaker. And the Rockets have the schedule, at least slightly.

The Vancouver Grizzlies tonight, followed by the potential trouble spots, the Jazz and the SuperSonics, the latter a Sunday afternoon showdown that could leave the Lakers dizzy in deciding who to root for. Then the Clippers, Mavericks and Spurs to finish.

So the Lakers take this opportunity to send a message to the rest of the league:


“Luckily, Sacramento kind of surprised Seattle [on Sunday], and maybe we can get some other teams to help us,” Derek Fisher said after starting at point guard for the third consecutive game and making only three of 10 field goals, his contribution as the Lakers shot 37.3%. “But coming down to these last five games, we have to put all the responsibility on ourselves.

“In a way, it might be an advantage. Let’s say we had clinched the division title and all of the sudden we had these teams ahead of us [on the schedule] and we started going easy [to rest for the postseason]. Now, we don’t have that option. . . . It’s kind of like the playoffs already, trying to play all these teams going down the stretch.”

Which could be good news for the Lakers, as long as they don’t play them like they did the first half against the Jazz, the pick-and-roll specialists who dominated the transition game to build the big lead.