Since pulling to an even 13-13 with back to back wins over the Grizzlies and the T’Wolves, the Lakers have lost 9 of their last 10 games. As we’ve discussed daily, injuries have turned what was at best a marginal playoff team into one of the worst outfits in the association. They still try hard and, for stretches in any given game, are very competitive – in two of their last three games they’ve actually led at halftime – but they simply don’t have enough talent or energy to maintain high levels of play over the course of an entire game.
And while the other day I mentioned that I was becoming numb to the losses, that feeling should not be mistaken with being embarrassed or distraught over the Lakers’ lot. I’m not happy – losing is horrible and enduring loss after loss is frustrating – but the team continues to work hard only to find themselves outgunned. If this team was openly quitting or not working hard while trying to maximize their talent, I’d feel different. But that is not the case. This team falls short because their ceiling isn’t as high as their opponent’s on most nights.
It won’t always be this way.
One of the reasons I know this is because of the Lakers’ opponent tonight. The Clippers, for what seems like my entire lifetime, have been one of the worst organizations in the NBA. Losing seasons were followed by more losing seasons and the team never looked like it would amount to much more than a punchline. In recent years, however, they were able to turn things around using the same strategy the Lakers will likely employ to get back to being a contender.
Some deft drafting landed them Eric Gordon and more lottery luck landed them Blake Griffin. The former was flipped with other assets from solid drafting and under the radar trades into a franchise point guard. With a top flight back court player and an up and coming front court player in place, the team raised its status into a competitive outfit. With that raised status, free agents wanted to play for them (and in the city of Los Angeles) on the cheap. Add in some other trades and the team has good depth, a high level core, and a high profile coach who wanted to be part of it all. And now they’re a contender.
So, if you’re ever feeling way too down on yourself, just remember, if the Clippers can do it, the Lakers surely can.
In any event, these two teams face off tonight and while there’s a nice rivalry between the players that will get the competitive juices flowing, this game has lost a lot of its luster with Kobe and Chris Paul unlikely to play. Even when thinking back to the first game of the year – an exciting Lakers’ win that may have been their high point all season – Jordan Farmar, Steve Blake, Xavier Henry are all out tonight and they were all a key part of the success the Lakers had in that first game (especially Farmar and Henry who made up two parts of the five man bench unit that closed the game on a ridiculous run that won the contest).
The Lakers just aren’t the same team as they were that night and while the Clips will be without their best player, they still have lots of talent to compensate. If they simply take the Lakers seriously and play hard and smart basketball, they should come out on top. If they don’t, however, the Lakers will be in position to win the game. We know that the Lakers will play hard to make that true.
Ultimately, not to sound like Debby the Downer, but this is the state of the team right now. The X’s and O’s matter and the team will need to clean up their turnovers, rebound well, and hit their outside shots. But what matters more is talent. We say this every day, but every day it remains true and bears repeating. If the Lakers are to win against better teams, they need to not only play to (or above) their ceiling as a group, but they need the other team to play down to them. Maybe that happens tonight and we all walk away happy. I’d really like that, I can tell you that much.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.