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Woike: Lakers had just enough time and luck to make playoffs

In Madison Square Garden on a January 1990 night, Mark Jackson couldn’t throw the inbounds lob to Patrick Ewing, and in doing so, changed basketball.

With 0.1 seconds left on the clock, Jackson flipped the ball to New York Knicks teammate Trent Tucker, one of the NBA’s first three-point sharpshooters. Tucker caught the pass, spun toward the basket and hit the game-winner against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

Chicago was livid. The clock, somehow, didn’t start on time, and the Knicks won the game.

Soon after, the NBA adopted the “Trent Tucker rule” that stated a shot off a catch or a rebound couldn’t happen unless there was at least 0.3 seconds on the clock.

From then forward, that number — 0.3 — represented a key line at the end of games. Anything below it was almost an impossibility.

But on the final play of the game, if the clock read 0.3, you still had a chance. Even if it was a slim one.

Tuesday night after a beautifully ugly night of basketball inside their home arena, the Lakers made their way into the locker room where coach Darvin Ham grabbed a black marker and wrote the following on the white board:




There was that number again — 0.3, the percent chance the Lakers’ analytics department gave the team to make the playoffs after a dozen games. Anything less would’ve been an impossibility.

But in the NBA, 0.3 means you still have a chance.

Somehow, the Lakers navigated the near-impossible journey to make the playoffs. They survived the miserable first dozen games. They dealt with injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis. They avoided letting the circus around James’ chase of the NBA scoring record distract them from their goal.

They salvaged their mess of a Russell Westbrook situation by trading him and getting back three players, including two who started Tuesday in their play-in game against Minnesota. They turned guard Kendrick Nunn and a handful of draft picks into young forward Rui Hachimura, who played in crunch time against the Timberwolves.

They were nimble. They were resilient. And, if we’re being honest, they were more than a little lucky.

When Davis suffered a right foot injury, the mystery that surrounded the diagnosis eventually became clear when he detailed the complexity. There was a stress reaction in his navicular bone. A bone spur also had fractured off.

Had things been just a little worse — that reaction becoming a fracture — Davis’ season would’ve been over. Instead, after he returned Jan. 25, Davis missed only three games — all for scheduled rest. After bad-luck injuries derailed his 2021-22 season, he enters this postseason in the midst of one of his most durable stretches since joining the Lakers.

The same “what if” applies to James, who tore a tendon in his right foot Feb. 26 against Dallas, just as the Lakers were starting to gather steam. Surgery was an option until James got treated by a specialist he called “the LeBron James of feet.”

And instead of coming back for just the final week, James joined the Lakers just before a crucial trip in which they won four in a row, setting the stage for them to finish with the seventh-best record in the Western Conference.

Lakers' Anthony Davis has the ball stolen by Minnesota Timberwolves' Kyle Anderson while driving to the basket.

Lakers’ Anthony Davis has the ball stolen by Minnesota Timberwolves’ Kyle Anderson while driving to the basket in the second quarter during an NBA play-in game at Crypto.com arena on Tuesday.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

And while they had a couple of tough-luck losses that could’ve been flipped if a call had gone their way, the Lakers also benefited from some late-season games in which they caught teams like the Utah Jazz as they headed toward the lottery.

Now, the Lakers draw Memphis in the first round. And while the Grizzlies have played good basketball since star guard Ja Morant returned from a suspension in late March, they’ll be without center Steven Adams and backup big man Brandon Clarke. In two games against Memphis, Davis averaged 29 points and 20.5 rebounds, and the series presents another opportunity against a depleted front line.

Wednesday, when the Lakers learned their schedule, they had to feel good about getting extra days of rest between Games 1 and 2 and 2 and 3.

For a team that started where the Lakers did, it’s setting up nicely.

“We definitely feel like we deserve it. We’re supposed to be here. We worked too hard and put in the work to get in this position,” Davis said Tuesday night. “But, yeah, I mean, that’s where we started, 2-10. And the analytic guys and the media upstairs and our front office and everything saying that we had 0.3% chance of getting into the playoffs and obviously we defeated those odds.”

That 0.3 — it isn’t much. But everyone in the NBA knows it can be enough — especially the Lakers.

This story originally appeared on LA Times

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