Coming into this game, with the playoff seedings pretty much set and the Lakers knowing who they’d face in the first round (and that they wouldn’t catch Orlando for the league’s 2nd best record), I think the only thing that all Lakers fans were hoping for was an injury free game. Well, they didn’t get it. After raising up to shoot a jumpshot, Sasha Vujacic came down on Mardy Collins’ foot and sprained his ankle. Severely. And while the Machine rolled around, clutching his ankle, writhed in pain on the floor right in front of the Lakers’ bench, the atmosphere and tenor of this game changed. Up to that point, the game was close and the Lakers – though not playing particularly well – were playing (relatively) hard in an effort to win the game. However, after Sasha got helped to his feet and then hopped to the locker room with his arm draped around the neck of trainer Gary Vitti, that was no longer the case (at least for a good portion of the remaining minutes of the game) and it showed in a 107-91 win for the Clippers.
The Lakers, with nothing to really played for, started to play to not get injured. And that was really the story of this game. That, and the fact that the Clippers played their butts off in the final game of this regular season. I mean, let’s give credit where credit is due. Sure, the Lakers continued their recent penchant for playing one step forward, one step backward basketball in this game. But the Clips just continued to move forward, got on a roll, and didn’t look back. They ran the floor, shared the ball, knocked down jumpers, and played with a sense of purpose for the entire game. The results were 7 Clippers ending the game in double figures, led by Steve Blake’s triple double (and team high 23 points) and Chris Kaman’s 22 points and 7 rebounds. Before the game, Phil Jackson commented that this Clippers team (even without Baron Davis and Eric Gordon) had some talent and that they are set up nicely to be a good team next season. But it didn’t take until next season for the Clips to flash some of that potential. They took it to a Lakers team that was just looking for the game to be over as quickly as possible.
And I don’t really blame the Lakers. They’re a banged up team. Already playing without Kobe and Bynum while also dealing with Jordan Farmar’s tweaked hammy, the Phil was forced to play Odom and Gasol extended minutes in the second half because besides Sasha’s in-game injury it turns out that Ron also suffered a twist of his ankle and Luke’s back went tight on him. So, if you were looking for the reasons behind Ammo starting the second half and Fisher, LO, and Pau all seeing extra court time in the final 24 minutes of a meaningless game, there you go. Phil was down to 7 healthy players (if you count Shannon and his bad right thumb healthy) and even if the prudent course of action would have been to rest them, it would have been difficult to field a team of only Ammo, Powell, and Mbenga on the floor as I’m pretty sure a three man line up is not legal.
And while all was not bad for the Lakers – Pau and Odom combined for 39 points (on 26 shots) and grabbed 25 rebounds, while Shannon had another good night with a line of 18/5/3 – I’m pretty sure every player in the purple and gold jerseys would have preferred to have not even suited up for this one. When you add the result of the game and the collateral damage that come from it, I’m not even sure if this game was worth the time that everyone who played, attended, and watched put into it (unless you are a Clips fan, then by all means enjoy this win).
So, this is how the regular season ends. A blowout loss to the Clippers with an infirmary ward’s worth of players on the bench. Not good times, to say the least. But hear we are. The playoffs start in four days and the Lakers have precious little time to get players healthy while still installing game plans for the Thunder. As commenter JeremyLA24 said:
Moving foward is arguably going to be alot more strenuous than the past 82 games but I wish the best of luck to this Laker squad that still has the potential to be defending champions despite all of the injuries getting in their way.
Indeed. Repeating was never going to be easy, but ready or not the journey starts on Sunday. I think we can all agree that we hope the Lakers are healthy and ready for the challenge.