I find myself going back and forth on how much value to place on the blowout loss to the Clippers.
On the one hand, the loss was, in the words of several players and the coach, embarrassing. After hanging tough for a quarter, the Lakers promptly lost whatever will they had to actually compete when the respective second units from each team came in, changing the tone of the game. The rest of the contest turned into a highlight reel of plays for the Clippers with the Lakers playing about as poorly as I have seen them all season (which is saying something considering the lows they have had this year). At certain points the team trailed by 50(!) points and ended up losing by a franchise record 48. That’s not really the type of record you want your name next to.
On the other hand, this team is bad. We know they’re bad; this is not a secret. And while they can flash the potential of being a good team on any given night, that should not be mistaken for actual quality. Even a child can pound on a piano for a couple of notes and produce something resembling a melody. So while some losses sting more than others, they are still just losses. This team has plenty of those in a variety of ways by a variety of margins to nearly every team in the league. Does losing by 40 hurt more than losing by 5? Sometimes yes, but other times no. They all count the same on the ledger in the end anyway.
Which leads us to tonight. After taking a beating like the Lakers did last night, there are two responses that are most typical. First is the itch to get back on the floor as quickly as possible to try and get that bad taste out of your mouth. The other, however, is that you end up licking your wounds and stay down for longer than you should and that bad taste lingers as to affect future play.
How the Lakers respond remains to be seen, but flying into Denver and landing at 4am local time while playing a game at 6pm isn’t really ideal. I can’t recall the last time the Lakers won when playing in Denver on the second night of a back to back after flying from the west coast (has it ever happened? maybe in the Showtime era?) so the hill they will try to climb tonight is already a steep one without last night’s game potentially serving as a bad hangover.
So, in many ways, what I am most looking for is that desire to play hard and the mental fortitude that is needed to try and overcome the physical tiredness they’re sure to feel. Last night’s game has that potential to drain a team of its spirit. The Lakers can show us all something (while also giving their coach a nod of support) by coming out and playing as hard as they can to try and get this win. They may not get that W, but going about securing it in a professional manner by giving their all would be something to look for. If they fall flat again or seem to throw in the towel early, that is a bad sign. Not just about whatever support (or lack thereof) they are giving their coach, but even about the mental makeup of some of the players.
In that regard, I’m not as interested in the X’s and O’s of this game. The Nuggets have had their own defensive issues lately and have given up big point totals in some recent games. They too are dealing with some injuries and, over the course of the year, have been called out by head coach Brian Shaw for not playing hard enough. Just as the Lakers are, the Nuggets are on the outside of the playoff picture looking in and have to evaluate players and start to decide who is part of their future core and who is not.
In other words, the stories of what is going on with these teams internally may influence the outcome of this game more than what goes on between them on the floor. This league can be interesting that way sometimes.
Where you can watch: 6pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.