After losing to the Rockets on Sunday, the Lakers are in Oklahoma City on Monday for their final game of the season against the Thunder. It also concludes their three game road trip serving as the final setup to the game against the Jazz on Wednesday. Sort of amazing to think the season is already over. In a way, I liken how it’s passed to those first few months of being a new parent. The days have been so long, but time has passed by so quickly.

Though it was back in December, it feels like just the other day Kobe announced, officially, this season would be his last. Now his final game is in two days. I know the time between then and now has been filled with losses, missed shots, fits and starts from the young players, and a whole lotta #byronquotes. Those tough moments have had me, more than once, wishing for the end to finally come. Now that it’s here, I can’t say I’m particularly thrilled about it. Yes, I want the negativity and suffering to end. But saying goodbye to Kobe isn’t something I’m looking forward to all that much, even though I know it is time.

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With only 3 games left in Kobe’s career, the focus is almost entirely on the final moments of his brilliant career whether he wants it that way or not. After the Lakers were handled by the Pelicans on Friday, Kobe didn’t express much approval of his point guard saying the goal was to get Kobe the ball as much as possible. On the other hand, Kobe took 10 shots in the 1st quarter of that game, including seven 3-pointers! So if he doesn’t want the ball, he’s got a weird way of showing it.

Again, though, whatever Kobe wants or doesn’t want, isn’t really that relevant at this point. The retirement train left the station long ago and now we’re all on the tracks together. There’s no adjusting course so we might as enjoy the scenery. If that involves a few more forced passes into #24, what does that matter at this point (with 3 games left in the season and his career)?

So, we celebrate the player and his career however we want to. For some, that might mean continuing to root for his departure as quickly as possible. Kobe’s not the most lovable figure in sports — Nike has done a great job of playing that up lately — and I think Kobe is fine still wearing the black hat to a portion of fans. If that means eating up career highlights and reveling in what once was, that’s totally fine too. I mean, he has clips all over the web of him dominating every team in the league. Today’s opponent included.

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Mamba Day is Coming…

Darius Soriano —  April 10, 2016

Nike has labeled April 13th “Mamba Day” in celebration of Kobe Bryant’s last game of his career. They’re dropping commemorative shoes and will surely have more product for your consumption as the day rolls around.

They have also released a great video with their signature athletes (and others, including Phil Jackson) talking about Kobe, telling stories, and describing him in a single word. It’s a great clip. Check it out below.

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I’ll be 100% honest: I have little to say about this game. The Pelicans’ injury situation is so dire, here is their projected starting lineup: Toney Douglas, James Ennis, Dante Cunningham, Omer Asik, Alexis Ajinca. Say whatever you want about the Lakers and them producing the worst season in franchise history, at least they’re fielding a roster of names you can recognize.

With that, I thought this might be the best preview available when considering all the variables.

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The Lakers lost their 62nd game of the season on Wednesday, making them the worst team in the history of the franchise. What started with a 57 loss campaign in Mike D’Antoni’s final season, has worsened to 61 and now 62 losses in Byron Scott’s first two years as the head man. Remember when so many people thought “it can’t get any worse” after D’Antoni resigned? Those people were wrong.

Boy, were they wrong.

The perceptions of a season are always shaped through the prism of expectations. Championship contenders often deal with an overreaction to any small hiccup which is viewed as potentially disrupting a run to a ring. Lower tiered teams are looked at from the standpoint of hope and marginal improvement. The Lakers, especially this year, were one of those teams. No reasonable fan thought a playoff team would emerge out of the ashes of a 61 loss season. But anywhere between 8-12 win improvement seemed possible, if not likely.

I was one of those people. In a pre-season podcast I mentioned 35 wins as a possibility if everything went right. If things did not go that well, I thought 27 – 29 wins was reasonable. The Vegas over/under of 29.5 wins backed this up. As it stands the Lakers have 16 wins with 4 games left to play. They will not get to 20 wins. They may not win another game at all. 

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The Lakers face the Clippers (again) on Wednesday, a night after getting crushed by them to the point the entire 4th quarter of the game was garbage time. While the Lakers have had a few successful games against their Staples Center co-tenants in the last few seasons, most games have mirrored Tuesday’s onslaught. The Clippers get up to play the Lakers and when you have a difference in quality between teams that’s been present the last few years, it’s not hard to predict the results.

After the game, Byron Scott offered similar critiques to ones he has leveled for most of the season — and especially recently. He lamented the lack of his young players’ intensity in comparison to Kobe and Metta World Peace, mentioned when you play “soft” and are not the aggressor games like this happen, and said they will need to learn to play with the appropriate level of intensity every night if they are going to “survive in this league”.

Another thing Scott mentioned was that he has run out of tactics and approaches to jumpstart his team. This was an interesting admission, since it not only implicates his players as (seemingly) non-responsive to his attempts to get them to play better, but also himself since he’s essentially admitting he’s no longer reaching his team (or at least a part of them). Whether he meant it that way or not, it’s also how that statement can be interpreted.

There could be a variety of reasons for this, but it’s a worthwhile discussion that is worrisome on multiple fronts.

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The Lakers play the Clippers on back to back nights a “home and home” where the only difference is the color of the uniforms, what face appears on your season ticket, and whether there are photos of your players in the rafters or not.

Oh, and there’s a difference in quality of team, too. The Clippers are pretty much locked into the 4th seed in the playoffs and a match up with the Warriors in the 2nd round. The Clippers just got Blake Griffin back from his torn quad/broken hand/suspension from punching the team’s equipment man in the face. Griffin looked rusty, but that’s to be expected.

If they are to make a deep run, they’ll need him at his best, though they will also need to find ways to integrate him back into what they did while he was away. Anchoring the 2nd unit as a point-PF who has the ball all the time might be the best way to do that, but that’s a conversation for another day.

The Lakers, meanwhile, are looking to ramp up their young players’ minutes over their final six games. This means changes to the rotation and, ultimately, Brandon Bass and Lou Williams being moved to the bench. Byron Scott gave the veterans a heads up that they should be ready should circumstances call for him to extend deep into the rotation, but otherwise they are going to sit.

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We Have a Winner…

Darius Soriano —  April 5, 2016

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.