Records: Lakers 23-27 (10th in the West), Bobcats 11-37 (15th in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 105.1 (8th in the NBA), Bobcats 98.7 (29th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.2 (t-17th in the NBA), Bobcats 108.7 (30th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Earl Clark, Dwight Howard
Bobcats: Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Hakim Warrick, Bismack Biyombo
Injuries: Lakers: Pau Gasol (out), Jordan Hill (out for the season); Bobcats:
Bag it, Dwight.
I say this, in all sincerity, not as an indictment of Dwight Howard, his toughness or his dedication to the Lakers’ collective (take that descriptor to heart at your own risk) quest for… I don’t know what. As the hits pile up faster than frozen slush on the Northeastern streets, it time – well, the latest time – for the Lakers to assess coldly the predicament in which they find themselves and pragmatically define the best case scenario for what remains of this wretched campaign.
Even before Pau Gasol felt a pop in his right plantar fascia, long gone was the notion that these Lakers will contend for a title. What now? Do we cling dogmatically to the misguided belief that this crew will unearth the grit, determination and shared strategic philosophy necessary to leapfrog at least two team at whom they’re looking up in the Western Conference standings, earning the always fun “team no one wants to see in the first round” title in the process? This would appear to be the least toxic of the Lakers’ venomous options, as (as has been discussed ad nauseum, here and elsewhere) the absence of a first round draft choice through which the team could retool inexpensively precludes the team from mailing in the remainder of this snakebitten season and returning next fall, younger and healthier. Missing playoffs strengthens the division rival Suns with a lottery pick, while a token postseason appearance sends a lesser selection to the Cleveland Cavaliers. That’s a lot of work for not a lot of anything.
If you take nothing else from the mildly coherent rant above, understand this: despite the temporary respite afforded by six victories in seven games (including the last three, with Pau, sans Dwight), the 2012-13 Lakers season is an unmitigated disaster. With nearly two thirds of the season gone, this team, anchored by “four future Hall of Famers” (I’m ready to not see that that again for a while), this team that will shell out for its players’ services nine figures this fiscal year, sports an abysmal 23-27 mark and has only just embarked on minimum six-week journey without one of its two remaining serviceable big men.
After some pointed comments by Kobe Bryant that may or may not have been as pointed as presented, Dwight Howard, aggravated labrum packed in Kevlar (or something), suited up for the first time in four games Thursday night in Boston. Despite conspicuously lacking both the aggressiveness and explosion that hallmark his characteristic dominance, Dwight had the Celtics in the penalty a scant 142 seconds into the game and racked up seven first quarter fouls on three of his frontcourt counterparts.
In total, he saw the floor for just 28 minutes – a fourth of them coming during an inexplicable stint in an inconsequential fourth quarter – accumulating nine points, nine rebounds, four turnovers, no blocked shots and six fouls, while connecting on one of six attempts from the free throw line, and was regularly beaten to rebounds and loose balls by the likes of Jason Collins and Chris freaking Wilcox.
Do off nights happen? Sure. This, however, felt like more than a 2008 Game 6 doppelganger. A pair of fading contenders, each without a front line performer, locked horns with pride and the playoffs at stake, and the more desperate, less shorthanded of the two was found wanting. The 116-95 margin by which the Celtics ran the Lakers out of Boston flattered the visitors, who missed 10 of 18 free throws and 10 of 12 3-pointers en route to a 14-point halftime deficit and, despite Kobe going Mamba after the break, were torched to the tune of 37 points in the third quarter and faced a 26-point gap that relegated the starting backcourt to the pine for the entirety of the final 12.
Kneejerk alarmism and defeatism have never figured into my Laker fandom. However, to extricate from the bind in which they find themselves, these Lakers must not only sustain a run of play that has heretofore eluded them, they’ll have to do so without Pau Gasol, while potentially running into the ground the big man to whom they plan to tether their future. All for a first round date with the San Antonio Spurs or the Oklahoma City Thunder. What’s that thing they say about risk and reward?
Tonight, as the town in which they were last buried is itself blanket with snow, the Lakers roll into Charlotte, the order of the evening their fourth victory in six games on the second night of a back-to-back. Once again, Dwight Howard will accompany his teammates onto a floor on which the Lakers have lost five of seven games all time, as the boys in Forum Blue embark on their latest trek toward .500, against the NBA’s clear-cut bottom dweller. After an encouraging start to the season, the Bobcats have dropped thirty-two of their last thirty-six, including a 101-100 defeat at Staples Center in which they held a double-digit lead.
If the Lakers are unable to take care of business against a squad that ranks in the league’s bottom two at both ends of the floor, they’ll depart Miami Sunday evening have put to rest more than their annual Grammy trip.