LOS ANGELES: The Cavaliers have a vested interest in the ongoing struggles of the Los Angeles Lakers. For a while there, fans could enjoy the Lakers’ disintegration because the Cavs can swap the Lakers’ pick with the Miami Heat’s first-round pick — but only if the Lakers make the playoffs.
That was considered a foregone conclusion at the start of the season. Yet as the Cavaliers face the Lakers tonight at Staples Center, the Lakers enter 15-21 and are the owners of the league’s longest current losing streak at six games. They’re five games behind the Portland Trail Blazers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, and suddenly the playoffs are hardly a given.
“I’m kind of dumbfounded by the whole situation,” said Luke Walton, who played for the Lakers for nearly nine seasons. “Not to make excuses for them, but they are a new team and they’ve been hurt all season. I think if they had been healthy, they would have figured it out by now.”
Walton has a fair point. Steve Nash missed six weeks at the start of the season with a small fracture in his leg. Now their top three bigs, including Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, are out with injuries.
Gasol has yet to be cleared from a concussion, while Howard will have his injured right shoulder re-examined before tonight’s game. There is a chance he could play, but it’s not likely. That means the Lakers could be in even worse shape than they were in early December, when the Cavs beat them at Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavs are one of only three teams — joining the Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets — to score victories this season over both the Lakers and Clippers.
“Our season starts Sunday,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni told reporters on Friday. “We put ourselves in this ditch and we are the only ones that can get ourselves out.”
Walton believes they’ll eventually pull it together … although he’s saying that with less conviction than he had previously. The Cavs need the Lakers to reach the playoffs. It will mean the difference between drafting near the middle of the first round if they’re a low seed, or drafting at the bottom of the first round if they’re forced to keep the Heat’s pick.
“I’m a believer. I’ve been around that organization and around Kobe too long to believe that they’re not going to figure it out, because it’s not acceptable — not with him in particular,” Walton said. “When you have someone who’s as good as he is, you don’t ever want to doubt him. I still think they’ll figure it out, but I’m not as confident saying that as I was when the season started.”
Gibson out of rotation
Daniel Gibson has been cleared from his concussion and is available, but he did not play in Friday’s loss at Denver and barring the unforeseen, he won’t play tonight against the Lakers, either.
Coach Byron Scott is sticking with Shaun Livingston and Dion Waiters as his guards off the bench, meaning there is no room for Gibson “probably for the next game or two,” Scott said. “I’ll have him out of the rotation and see how it goes. If it doesn’t go as well as I wanted it to, then I’ll probably put him back in.”
Gibson said he was a little surprised he never got off the bench in Friday’s loss to the Nuggets, but understood the Cavs were coming off a victory over the Hawks.
“I’m sure [Scott] didn’t want to break up the rotation and what we had going on,” Gibson said. “We’ll see moving forward what happens.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.