Lakers embrace playoff race

Updated: February 27, 2013, 8:06 PM ET
By Dave McMenamin | ESPNLosAngeles.com

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Steve Nash and Dwight Howard infamously appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated's NBA season preview issue in October, accompanied by the headline, "Now this is going to be fun."

The two stars' first season with the Los Angeles Lakers hasn't gone anything like they planned it. But Nash says there is still joy in Laker Land, partly because of the predicament they're in.

"It's going to be a tough ride trying to get into the playoffs, but that's going to make it fun," Nash said after practice Wednesday. "Let's try to overcome the odds and try to get back in there and see if we can scare some people."

Despite Monday's 119-108 loss to the Denver Nuggets, the Lakers have won 11 of their past 16 games and trail the Houston Rockets by three games for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

"I think you got some veterans on the team that enjoy this time," Nash said. "Let's enjoy being the underdogs. Let's enjoy the pressure, let's welcome it and let's embrace it and allow it to elevate our process and elevate our progress."

Howard, known for being happy-go-lucky -- if not goofy -- no matter what the situation, has been able to maintain perspective throughout the Lakers' struggles.

"This is the best life we could ever have," Howard said. "So there's no need for us to be mad. We're not happy we're in the position we're in, but we still have a great life. Regardless of what happens tomorrow or the next day, we're all blessed and we got to live one day at a time and have fun."

Kobe Bryant said the Lakers' backs-against-the-wall situation has created a good tension for the team.

"I think everybody is a little edgy and we want to turn things around," Bryant said. "We want to get to a point where we're in the postseason and can make some noise."

Is "edgy" Bryant's form of "fun"?

"I'm just naturally like that," Bryant said. "I think this type of situation brings it out of all of us a little bit more and hopefully will get us to another level."

While the Lakers sit immediately behind Houston and just further back of Utah (3½ games) and Golden State (5½ games), coach Mike D'Antoni said he doesn't want his team focusing on its foes.

"They can let me do that," D'Antoni said. "I'll do that for all of them. We just need to play. Our hole is so big that we can't think that we can watch the [scoreboard] and do something. We just got to win games."

D'Antoni's players have had no problem following their coach's wishes.

"I haven't," said Howard, when asked if he's scoreboard watching. "I don't watch TV. I just know that we have to win every game we play."

"Maybe it's because I've played a long time, but I really don't follow the scoreboard," Nash added. "I just try to worry about getting ready to go and try to worry about our team. If we win the majority of our games coming in here, get hot, we got a chance."

If the Lakers can continue to win games at their current pace and accomplish their playoffs goal, then and only then will Bryant join in on the fun.

"It will be much more fun when we're in the postseason," Bryant said with a smirk.

Dave McMenamin

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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