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Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Lakers 116, Kings 108: At the buzzer

By Andy Kamenetzky

Before this game, I decided I'd provide a formal breakdown only in the event of a loss. I mean, let's be honest. At the end of the day, is the nitty gritty of how the Lakers managed to beat the lowly Kings really all that compelling? But on the flip side, if the Lakers actually dropped a contest to the Pacific Division bottom-feeders, which by extension means dropping the second seed in the West, fans would likely and rightly be curious to know what the (N.S.F.W.) happened.

Thankfully, if you missed tonight's game, you won't learn a thing about what happened in this space. Well, except one small, trivial detail.

The Lakers blew a 20-point fourth-quarter lead and required overtime to secure a victory.

It's the perfect regular-season capper for a massively underwhelming April. Five consecutive losses, with the skid finally snapped by a discombobulated victory over a short-handed San Antonio Spurs squad. The victory drought featured wretched offensive execution, a sudden inability to avoid turning the ball over, late rotations and nonexistent transition defense. Plus, there's been no shortage of complacency, the most glaring example coming against Portland, when the Lakers resembled a squad of zombies. And not the fast, aggressive kind from "The Walking Dead." I'm talking your daddy's zombies, the ones easily timed with a sundial.

Oh, and Andrew Bynum hyperextended his knee, Matt Barnes' surgically repaired knee began flaring up and Steve Blake is, to the best of my knowledge, the only 31-year-old man in America with chicken pox.

I'm not saying the Lakers backed into the playoffs ... I just don't know how to finish this sentence.

But on the positive side, there is a positive side.

The Lakers wanted the second seed, and despite the ugly delivery, they got it.

They wanted (with hands on the Bible and truth serum ingested) a first-round date with the New Orleans Hornets, and they got it.

A potential second-round match with the Dallas Mavericks -- or even the Portland Trail Blazers, who I think will upset the Mavs -- feels easier than a showdown with the Thunder, and they got that as well.

Bynum and Barnes will be in uniform by the time Game 1 rolls around, and everyone should be rested and ready to rock and roll. Plus, there are several days ahead to regroup, refocus and and get their proverbial "stuff" together. And while I'll constantly remind people the regular season is often a horrible barometer for predicting postseason futures, the Lakers' 4-0 clip against the Hornets, now battling without David West, makes me think the first round won't be merely an extension of the status quo, but an opportunity to bang out some of the kinks. Like a series of dress rehearsals, if you will.

By the time the presumed second round arrives, the Lakers will have perhaps rediscovered the white-hot form they exhibited immediately following the All-Star break -- or if not quite that good right off the bat, something in the neighborhood.

Is it really all that simple? I don't know, but for the Lakers' sake, it better be. The final games allotted for playoff tuneups were inexplicably frittered away, so this is the lumpy bed they've made. Focus, execution and intensity must be summoned from scratch, and they'll need to hit the ground running after a whole lotta walking.

Then again, this is a team built decidedly for the playoffs. The Lakers have had their eyes blatantly fixed on mid-April and beyond since roughly December, and it's finally arrived. Maddening as it might be, this is the Laker DNA. And for the last two seasons, the purple and gold double helix has amounted to success. No team enters these playoffs with a better pedigree, more experience and -- despite the recent malaise -- more unwavering belief in an ability to win when the games truly matter. That time is now, and it's the time the Los Angeles Lakers live for.

Let the second season begin.