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We Have a Winner…

Darius Soriano —  April 5, 2016 — 4 Comments

Last night’s UNC vs. Villanova NCAA college basketball championship game, with its amazing finish, was one of the more fun basketball games I have watched in a while. The shots at the end, the reactions of the players and coaches, the fantastic refereeing*, the crying Jordan meme dominating twitter…all of it was just great.

What was also great is that the game determined the winner of our tournament pick ’em challenge. That winner is….espn63510675 with the Hand Down, Man Down bracket.

You, mr. anonymous espn63510675, won our challenge with 1180 points. Please step forward to claim your prizes. Which, if you have forgotten, are one copy each of Jonathan Abram’s “Boys Among Men and Andy Glockner’s “Chasing Perfection”. Both are outstanding books and you will be better off for having them.

To claim your prize, simply email me by clicking here and messaging no later than Friday, April 8th. We can work out the details then. If I do not hear from you by then, your rightful prizes will be given to the 2nd place person.

For the rest of you, go buy the books if you have not already. Seriously, they are excellent. Thanks to everyone for playing.

*This is not true. The refereeing was not good in this game. And by not good, I mean…really quite bad. There were so many touch fouls and 50/50 plays where I thought “that has to be a no call”, but of course it wasn’t. In some ways, I thought the way UNC played that final possession was indicative of them not wanting to draw a last second foul which would have put ‘Nova at the line for game winning FT’s. Anyway. I didn’t have a horse in this race, so the outcome doesn’t matter to me. But I thought the refs were not good in this one.

It’s sometimes nice to take a break from the Lakers’ current woes and remember better times. Today is one of those days with the news that Shaquille O’Neal will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer.

While Shaq played for 7 teams, he will be most remembered for his time with the Magic (who drafted him), the Heat (where he won a championship in 2006), and the Lakers where he spent more years than any other franchise and had his most success both as an individual and with a team.

But if you ask any Lakers’ fan, they will always think of Shaq as a Laker first and foremost.

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It’s been a strange week for the Lakers. Off court drama + a 48 point loss in Utah + an overtime win vs. the Heat = fans’ heads spinning. But nothing grounds the Lakers or their fans like a game vs. the Celtics. It seems almost any other storyline takes a backseat to a game against Boston and a chance to beat the organization’s most bitter rival.

Kobe’s farewell tour adds an additional layer to this. Against the Heat, Kobe played 9 minutes and was held out of the entire 2nd half after telling Byron Scott he “couldn’t move” on the court. But with multiple days off and the lure of one last game against the hated C’s, there is little doubt Kobe will play in this game. There is no playoff push to make or any seeding implications for the Lakers, but this game means something. It always will.

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It has been widely discussed that one reason the Lakers fell in love with rookie D’Angelo Russell is that his combination of skill and confidence reinforce the idea he can one day be the type of alpha leader who carries the Lakers’ franchise forward post-Kobe Bryant. What is not talked about enough, though, is Julius Randle — the Lakers’ first lottery pick of their rebuild — also has some of these same traits.

Randle isn’t viewed as having the same skill level as Russell. His bully-ball style lacks the polish and smoothness that Russell’s game does. But do not let the raw physicality of Randle’s approach overshadow the skill level he does possess — especially for a 6’9″, 250 pound man.

His off the dribble work and open court prowess have been on display all season — be it on coast to coast takes or on moves like this one versus the Cavs:

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Let me get this out of the way up top, there is a pretty juicy story circulating involving the Lakers, D’Angelo Russell, and Nick Young. If you haven’t read about it yet, you will soon. It is everywhere and will dominate social and traditional media for at least today. Very likely it will last much longer. The story has legs and lots of folks have opinions on what happened, what’s going on now, and what should be next.

That said, I’m not going to discuss the issue here, at my site, beyond the paragraph above. When this site was founded nearly 12 years ago, there were other off-court and drama-rich stories swirling around high profile players. This site was founded as a place to continue to discuss the game and the on-court happenings of the Lakers. It’s one of the principles of FB&G and I’m not going to depart from that now. Not because of the increased presence and importance of social media; not because these types of stories get larger portions of the news cycle; not because there is great fan interest.

If that costs me some readers or eyeballs on this blog, I will live with that. Odds are, if you have followed me (or Kurt before me) you already knew this. But if you’re newer to this site than others, I want to reiterate my stance on this. There are other places who will cater to your desires for updates and coverage. I implore you to seek them out if you’d like more on that subject or if you would like to discuss it with other Lakers’ fans. I will still be here when you come back, talking about the on-court happenings of the really bad 15-59 Lakers.

With that out of the way…

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In a game of how bad can we be?, the Lakers were emperors of the court against the Jazz on Monday night. They needed a last second three pointer from D’Angelo Russell just to tie their all-time worst losing margin of 48 points. Per the NBA’s stat tool, they posted a net efficiency differential of negative 57.1. Minus. Fifty. Seven. Point. One.

They had gems of defensive possessions like this one:

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Only 9 games left. Nine. The struggle is real. Well, for me it is.

Not just with the losing, either. The Lakers have 15 wins and are unlikely to reach last season’s total of 21. Following a team this bad, for two consecutive seasons, is uncharted territory for Lakers’ fans.

And not just because of Kobe’s pending retirement. Coming to grips with the finality of Kobe’s career isn’t something I’ve been able to truly prepare for. Yes, we’ve known it’s coming for months — even before his announcement, to be honest — but that doesn’t make it any easier.

I don’t write this to ask for pity or sympathy. Rather to simply explain that…well, this is all sort of new and I don’t like it. The losing is one thing. To have it be coupled with Kobe’s final season is something else entirely.

Balancing the emotions of watching the team lose, watching Kobe be unable to do anything about it — and, really, actively contribute to it on some nights — while still having this great sense of appreciation for his career and all he’s done for the franchise is just so strange. All at one time there is this frustration of the current situation, a sense of happiness of seeing him out on the floor playing these final games, and the nostalgia and feelings of reflection which come from looking back on what has been an amazing career.

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After losing to the Nuggets on Friday, the Lakers are back in action today against the Wizards. Friday saw Kobe score 28 on decent efficiency, D’Angelo Russell go down with a sprained ankle (he is doubtful for today), and Julius Randle notch his 1st career triple double. Still, though, it was a loss. The Lakers are now 15-57 on the season, looking less and less likely to even catch last year’s franchise worst total of 21 wins.

The hope is that all this losing translates to the keeping of the team’s top-3 protected draft pick, but we know that’s far from certain. And while it is on fresh on the mind now (especially with March Madness in full swing), it’s also more of a conversation for May when we will know for sure. Fretting today, while a fun barstool discussion, it arguing hypotheticals more than anything else.

These last 10 games, then, are really about the remaining storylines of this year. Which really means it’s about Kobe and the final 10 games of his career. Over these last 10 games, I will post a random highlight clip from the opponent. With today’s game being against Washington, I figured the best clip to show would be when Kobe faced off against Michael Jordan for the last time in Los Angeles when his Airness was a Wizard.

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