The Western Conference playoff race has the eye of the rest of the league, including Lakers coach Luke Walton, a former Golden State assistant, who thinks there is more than one serious threat to the Warriors this season.
The Houston Rockets, who defeated the Lakers on Tuesday night, are one.
“I could see a lot of teams coming out of the west from obviously Houston, Golden State,” Walton said. “Jimmy Butler coming back in Minnesota, they’re still fighting to make it and I could see them going deep into the playoffs as long as Jimmy’s healthy.
“And Oklahoma City obviously with the talent they have, they can get hot at the right time. I think everyone’s a threat to everyone in the West. That’s why the race has been so close. I’m excited to watch, it’s going to be a very entertaining playoffs I think.”
One might assume it’s less entertaining for those waiting for more information about their playoff opponent, but Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, who won’t know who his team will play until the eighth seed is determined Wednesday, isn’t stressing himself out over it.
“I think the West is like that every year, if I am not mistaken,” D’Antoni said. “And you really don’t know. And really, you play everybody and everybody is capable of beating you and you are capable of beating everybody, especially if they are the No. 1 seed.”
D’Antoni added that his assistants have already started preparing for the three possible teams his team might play.
It appears the Lakers will finish out their season without their three young stars — Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball.
Ingram is finishing up the Lakers’ concussion protocol, but he has missed six games with the brain injury. Ball has missed seven games with a left knee bruise. Kuzma has missed two games with two sprained ankles, after playing several games withonly a sprained right ankle.
All three players were at the Lakers’ facility Tuesday.
Walton, who has insisted his players were day to day, said Tuesday that it was “not looking good” for the three of them to return for Wednesday’s finale against the Clippers.
D’Antoni doesn’t buy the idea that his team’s season will be diminished if, after having the best record in the NBA, the Rockets don’t win a championship.
“I read something the other day where sure James Harden should be the MVP. Sure Chris Paul and James have been great, sure they set a franchise record [by] about six games’ worth, but they’ll ultimately be judged by if they win a championship or not,” D’Antoni said.
“Really? It doesn’t diminish what these guys have done.”
D’Antoni, looking for his first championship as coach, considers titles a faulty marker, noting the number of role players who have won championships by playing alongside great players.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli