Archives For Game Recap

Hours before the game started, Kobe Bryant announced he would not play beyond this season. We’ll get to that another time, but that was the backdrop to this game. The farewell tour would begin in earnest at home, two days before the team will play in Kobe’s hometown of Philly.

The crowd was ready, but the players were not. Both teams started out poorly, missing countless shots they would normally make. By the end of the 1st period, only the Pacers would have found their stride, taking a 16 point lead to the break that they would never relinquish. As I have written several times before, a game can just as easily be lost in the first 12 minutes as it can in the last 5 and tonight was a prime example of that. The Lakers would miss their first 11 shots and that was that.

Only, it wasn’t. Kinda. Sorta.

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The Lakers lost to the Raptors on Friday night, their 10th loss in 12 games, which is a bit concerning if all you are doing is watching the standings or worried about the team’s record. I do watch those things and would like that to be different, but if that’s all you are watching you missed some things which, in the bigger picture, are more important.

The Raptors game was a good progress game, a game where the young players all found their stride on the same night, a game that will, hopefully, be more of the norm in the future than it has been to this point in the year. Consider the following:

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The Lakers had lost 4 games in a row and were reeling. Their opponent was on the 2nd night of a back to back and had lost to the Clippers on Saturday night. One team was going to leave LA Sunday night (the Lakers to Phoenix, the Pistons back to Detroit after an 11 day roadie) happy. That team is the Lakers and I think we all feel a bit of relief and happiness because of that. I know I do.

It was not a perfect night and there were things I wish played out differently (more on that later), but on a night when the Lakers got a W and in a season where that looks like it might not happen as many times as any of us with rooting interests would like, I won’t dwell on that stuff too much. The Lakers work hard and I want to see that work rewarded. Even if it comes with things I don’t necessarily agree with.

On this night, though, there was more to like than not.

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If the silver lining to the loss to the Magic was the young players playing well while gaining valuable experience down the stretch of a close game, the loss to the Mavs offered some hints at improving group play from the starting group. After a Heat game that saw the Lakers’ starters struggle against the Heat’s top 5, the team’s first five had a stronger showing against the Magic one night later.

Last night, against the Mavs, the starters’ showing was even better:

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With only 1.5 seconds left and the game tied, overtime seems like a foregone conclusion. To not only lose, but to lose where the Lakers’ best defender is challenging a turnaround 18 footer from the opposing team’s Center (regardless of how good a shooter) is, well, deflating. I would normally take that scenario 100 times out of 100. Alas, it was not the Lakers night.

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The Lakers lost again. This, in and of itself, is not news. It is especially not news when they are on the road and playing a good team, as they did on Tuesday night, against the Heat in Miami. So, with the simplest of explanations, chalk this up to one team losing to a better team under circumstances in which that outcome was going to be pretty likely.

The bigger story, though, wasn’t just the team losing, but the side stories within the loss. Namely, that despite the Lakers finding themselves down big late, D’Angelo Russell could not get any 4th quarter minutes. After the game, Byron Scott had this to say about that development:

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It may not cure all, but the Lakers getting a win sure does make things go down a bit smoother. The night wasn’t perfect, but perfect can wait for another day. The Lakers needed a win severely, if only to ease some of their own frustrations.

Regardless of how good a win makes the fans feel, I can guarantee it feels better for the players. It is difficult to put all that work in and not see the reward on the court with actual wins. As much as performing well as an individual matters, these guys aren’t out there playing tennis or golf. They want their team to win. One only needed to see the look on the face of D’Angelo Russell in the closing seconds of this game (even though he was on the bench — more on that later) or the look on Julius Randle’s after the four previous ones (even though he’d played well in most of them) to recognize the difference.

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It should be noted, at the top, that few people thought the Lakers would win many games. In my season preview I wrote the following:

I think this team tops out at 38 wins and that’s with everything going right. When was the last time any NBA team had everything go right? When was the last time the Lakers did? That said, if this team wins over 30 games, they will simultaneously improve on last season’s win total by 10 wins and beat their over for Las Vegas.

A 10 win improvement on the 21-win dumpster fire that was last season might seem too optimistic right now. That’s where we are after the Lakers lost 120-109 to a Nuggets team missing one of their better wing scorers and their entire rotation of Centers.

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