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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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One of the reasons I am such a big Julius Randle fan is that he has the tools to one day be a complete player. He’s not there yet, of course, but most every game he shows hints of what he can be. A contested rebound, a soft finish in traffic, a smart cut, an off the dribble move where he moves like a guard, a smart pass. These flashes of fantastic play only keep you wanting more, to the point of sometimes being disappointed the entirety of his game isn’t always at his disposal to wreak havoc on opponents.

Against the Nuggets on Friday night, however, he really did put it all together. 13 points on 6-10 shooting, 18 rebounds, and 10 assists. He became the youngest Laker since Magic Johnson to notch a triple-double and joined Pau Gasol as the only Laker since 1983-84 to have a triple double with at least 13/18/10 in every category. Quite the company to keep for the 2nd year pro. Just look at some of the plays, too:

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It is sort of hard to believe, but the final countdown really is upon us. Tonight is game 72 of the season, meaning after the Lakers face the Nuggets there are only 10 games left this year. So we really are nearing the finish line of Kobe Byrant’s career. This will be a topic we discuss more in the final two and half weeks until the final game against the Jazz on April 13th, but the finality of it all is really starting to hit me.

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For the season, the Lakers are still 29th in the league in offensive efficiency. Though they have improved a great deal since the All-Star break — they have posted a 106.1 rating, good for 14th in the league for that stretch — they have fallen off that pace since February 26th (103.2 rating since that date) when Byron Scott implemented a “new set” which has become the base of their offense.

Still, the 103.2 rating since the change is still good for 19th over that period and shows marked improvement over their season long numbers. One of the reasons their offense has improved is because they are running more off-ball actions which help promote side to side ball movement. Byron mentioned an impetus to the change was the analytics staff noting the team was near the bottom of the league in the ball changing sides of the floor (and in making passes in general) and wanted to rectify that.

Hence, a new set, more movement, and more passing. While opponents have surely been scouting what the Lakers are doing and, in turn, disrupting some of their actions, it would be hard to argue against the team doing better. It’s right there in the numbers and, if you’ve been watching, in little wrinkles which are showing up each game.

For example, against the Grizzlies on Tuesday, the Lakers ran a little flare screen action which set up a nice Kobe Bryant three pointer:

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The Lakers got a rare win against a banged up Grizzlies team playing on the second night of a back to back last night and will try to carry forward some of that momentum against the Suns tonight. This is the same Suns team who handled the Lakers just last week, so even though they, like the Lakers, are a wreck of a team, don’t get any ideas about this game being any sort of a sure thing.

That said, the Suns are down a key cog.

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Let’s get the formalities out of the way first: Kobe Bryant is expected to play tonight, per Byron Scott. He will also travel with the team to Phoenix with the hope of playing in Wednesday’s match up vs. the Suns — his last in Phoenix. This isn’t the first time we have heard in the morning that Kobe would play, only to have that end up not being true. However, considering the days off the Lakers have had and the fact Kobe’s not played since March 13th, I would imagine he gives it a go tonight.

The second “injury” note is that Larry Nance, Jr. will not play tonight. Coming out of the All-Star break and after dealing with a sore knee, Nance was ruled out of back to back games. Rather than sit out the 2nd half of the back to back, Nance will sit out the front end against the Grizzlies and be available on Wednesday against the Suns. The Lakers, then, will be somewhat shorthanded this game, especially on the wing where Nance has been moonlighting of late. This means you should expect to see some Ryan Kelly, if SF must go three players deep (behind Kobe and Metta).

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It only took 69 games*, but Byron Scott has uttered words that fans have been hoping to hear all season. When it comes to the team’s young players — specifically D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and Julius Randle — Scott says they will be given a longer leash, especially when it comes to 4th quarter playing time. The OC Register’s Bill Oram has the story:

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