More than any other game this year, I think, the win over Portland has fans experiencing a wide range of emotions.
Those who still try to find joy in watching the Lakers play well and actually win games found themselves beaming after the game. A win in Portland is always hard to come by, but a win by this version of the Lakers in Portland seemed impossible 24 hours ago. But there the team was, throwing hay-makers in the form of three pointers and digging in defensively (as best they could) to try and slow down a Blazer attack that features some of the best spacing and outside shooting around. When the game got close at the end, I think everyone was resigned to this being another loss, but a fantastic out of bounds play produced a game winner:
On a side note, that really was a great play design by Mike D’Antoni. He played up the idea that he would run a play for one of his guards, but then had Farmar set a pick (and an excellent pick was set) for Wes Johnson which freed him up for the lob. What also can’t be overlooked is Kent Bazemore’s pass. It takes a fair amount of skill and touch to get that pass there, on the money, to a slashing Johnson. He has to compensate for Aldridge’s length and the defender waving madly in front of him.
In any event, if you like watching this team play well, you were thrilled.
But if you are someone rooting for losses, odds are you were left disappointed after a win this team had no business getting when looking at the schedule. Each loss is a coveted asset for some fans as they represent a closer step to the promised land of a high draft pick. You want Joel Embiid? Andrew Wiggins? Jabari Parker? Then you probably want losses. And the more of them the better. Last night’s win vaulted the Lakers into a tie for the 7th worst record this year. At that spot, the odds of securing one of the super blue-chip players from this heralded draft class diminishes greatly. In other words, nice win team who can’t even tank right.
And then, of course, there’s the group of fans who liked the win but were mad about how it was delivered. An exploration of the boxscore shoes both Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman were DNP-CD’s. That duo getting zero minutes in a game where LaMarcus Aldridge is a featured player for the other team and had Robin Lopez getting a lot of garbage man points in the paint after the Lakers’ D was left scrambling to help was a point of frustration for many. D’Antoni’s insistence on going small and playing Johnson at the “4” and Kelly instead of his more heralded teammates is too much, was a common refrain during the game. And so there these fans are, struggling with the idea that the coach won a game and did it using his style with the players he wants to play in an environment he had no business doing it in.
I bring this all up because expect these to be the major themes over the last 22 games. There is no one right way to view these things. I know because I struggle with the conflicting nature of all these points of view myself. I hate losing. I want to see the team do well and, in the process, the players to get some joy out of what they do while improving upon their craft. I also want the best player possible from the upcoming draft and while there is no guarantee that a higher pick produces that player, what a higher pick does guarantee is the Lakers’ brass the option to make the choice they want rather than leaving the Lakers with whatever leftovers exist at pick 7 or 8 or 11. Further, I like Jordan Hill. I like Chris Kaman. I enjoy watching these guys do the dirty work and don’t like it when other teams’ big men do that work against the Lakers. I think there’s value in playing a style less reliant on high variance shot selection and a fast pace.
And I don’t think I am the only one thinking these things. Nor do I think I’m the only one thinking all of them in the course of a single game. Where that leaves us is in this strange middle ground of fandom that I don’t think can truly be balanced.
Tonight, though, the team is back at it. They face a Pelicans team who, like the Lakers, isn’t doing well and will be among the teams vying for one of the top 10 picks in the upcoming draft. They, like the Lakers, would like nothing more than to add to their core and improve their long-term fortunes with another high quality player. Can you imagine Wiggins playing with Anthony Davis? What about Parker? Or maybe Dante Exum in the back court with Jrue Holiday flanked by Davis in the front court? These are the ideas that a lot of fanbases are dreaming about right now.
What happens on the floor tonight, then, will be played against this backdrop. Enjoy the game however you see fit, folks. There’s only 20 some odd games left before everyone will argue about who to draft.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.