It has now reached this point for Hollywood basketball.
One team received their superstar back in the lineup and are 7-3 in their last 10 games.
The other … keeps having crucial players drop like flies, and just experienced their 34th loss of the season. Yes, after just 52 games played.
That’s how large the discrepancy between the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers has become. Late great Dr. Jerry Buss would have never thought the situation would unfold the way it has, due to the purple and gold always flashing a championship level roster.
On Tuesday evening, the Lakers suffered a brutal loss to Tyrone Corbin‘s Utah Jazz at Staples Center, 96-79.
In the sport of basketball, you often hear the descriptive phrase, “game of runs.” To understand the ultimate definition of the phrase, all one had to do was tune in to the meltdown that transpired on the Lakers’ home floor on Tuesday.
To open the game, Utah (probably still high off their victory over the Miami Heat) came out with every intention to win their second game against the Lakers in the last three season meetings. They made their mark, using a quick 7-0 lead to rattle Los Angeles in the first couple minutes. Marvin Williams was getting quality looks near the rim, and also establishing his long-range game early with a 3-pointer during the run. Entering the game, Williams had averaged 22.3 points per contest in Utah’s last three games, after not posting any 20-point games in his first 36 games of the year.
Little did Utah know, the Lakers would ride Chris Kaman’s trigger happy offense to an even larger run before the first quarter ended. Kaman shot 4-of-10 in the first on a combination of his favorite mid-range attack and dirty work in the paint, to score eight points for Los Angeles in the early going. The re-signed forward, Shawne Williams, connected on two corner 3-pointers for eight points as well.
Los Angeles formed together an impressive 19-0 run after they got settled in, and took a 27-16 lead into the second quarter. After leading by as much as 15, the Lakers felt good about their chances after drilling four triples out of the gates.
Unfortunately for Mike D’Antoni‘s draft lottery squad, it would only go downhill from there.
The second quarter was this game’s turning point, as the Jazz completely terminated the Lakers’ offense in pursuit of a 32-10 quarter, in favor of the visitors. Starting out the second was just pure torture for the Lakers, missing eight consecutive field goals. That allowed Utah to attack the paint and get nine points from Gordon Hayward, all in the midst of a 20-3 run by the Jazz.
The amazing turnaround in the second quarter gave Utah a boost on both ends of the floor, as they only gave up 10 points by the Lakers in the second, and took a 48-37 lead into halftime.
This was undoubtedly the main turning point in the embarrassing loss, with the Lakers shooting a horrendous 4-of-18 from the field in the second (22.2 percent) and not hustling to crash the boards. Many times during the game, Los Angeles appeared flat-footed, making no strong desire or effort to box out and collect misses. It was easily shown by Utah’s 20 rebounds (six offensive) in the second alone.
“We tried to keep them on the same side, and they weren’t getting as many looks,” Hayward said after the game. “We had our hands up, contested their shots and made them put it on the floor.”
Los Angeles made their adjustments, and didn’t back down to start the second half.
In the third quarter, Kaman continued to be the offensive focal point in half court sets, as ludicrous as that seems considering the Lakers franchise is never this desperate. Wesley Johnson emerged as the energy supplier and was instrumental in the Lakers’ comeback attempt. He helped Los Angeles run the floor effectively on fast breaks, and was often on the receiving end of tremendous ball movement. After a couple of transition slams, including an alley-oop from Kendall Marshall, Johnson drained a mid-range pull up to narrow the deficit to just two, 60-58.
Despite Kaman and Johnson combining for 17 of the Lakers’ 23 third quarter points, that’s as close as they would get to stopping Utah.
Finishing off the Lakers in the fourth quarter, the Jazz would thrive off the Alec Burks show that decided to air in front of a disgusted crowd.
One of Los Angeles’ noteworthy plays of the night; a smooth backdoor cut by Shawne Williams for the slam:
Burks would score 13 of his 24 points in the final period, as he attacked the rim and consistently drew fouls to get to the line. Burks concluded with a team-high 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting off the bench, picking up the slack for the Jazz’s starting unit. All five Utah starters combined to shoot just 35.5 percent from the floor, which was why they needed 51 points from their secondary. Utah’s leading scorer on the year, Hayward, scored 15 points, grabbed eight rebounds, and dished seven assists.
For the Lakers, the loss knocked them back to 14th in the Western Conference, giving Utah the win to pass them by in the standings. It was also the sixth straight home loss at Staples Center, which hasn’t happened since 1993. The Lakers are officially doing things that I haven’t witnessed from them in my lifetime. The agony is real.
Kaman played his second straight game in which he impressed, and surprised, many Lakers fans and opponents. Scoring a game-high 25 points and pulling down 14 rebounds, he has done his part in filling the offensive void the injured Pau Gasol left in the frontcourt.
After the game, the Lakers’ 11-year veteran offered his take on how it feels for a rotation to be so inconsistent:
“It’s frustrating,” Kaman said. “A lot of our guys are just trying to figure out where they’re supposed to be and what they’re supposed to be doing, because we’ve had so many guys hurt and then come back.”
Since Gasol has been sidelined with the strained groin, Kaman has stepped into the rotation and averaged 18.2 points per game through the first five games of February. Two points have to be made after what we’ve seen from the 7-foot center.
First, it makes it quite amusing that D’Antoni kept him out of the rotation for all but five games in January. Jordan Hill does have more explosion in his game and athletic ability, but Kaman clearly fits D’Antoni’s offensive techniques due to his confidence in stepping away from the basket and stretching out the defense. Kaman is the better option offensively, and it would be in the better basketball interest to combine him with Pau Gasol upon the Spaniard’s return.
Let’s quit acting like Kaman disappears on the defensive end. While he does make mistakes, are we completely sure there’s a large gap between Hill’s defense and Kaman’s? I’m certainly not. This team has zero frontcourt defenders that would make an opposing slasher/scorer hesitate, and we knew that from the day Dwight Howard packed his bags.
Injuries … Injuries … Injuries
Steve Nash - Nash started Tuesday’s game and played 16 1/2 minutes before existing the game with the same problem he has experienced since November. His left leg kept bothering him and it continued to be the nerve-root irritation. Sunday in Chicago, Nash left the game early after slightly bumping knees with Kirk Hinrich, and didn’t return.
On Tuesday, Nash was eager to come back into the game during the second half and make his crafty presence known, but was unable to:
“He (Nash) wanted to come back in the second half when we had so few guys to play,” D’Antoni stated. “We just have to get through this period and get guys back after the All-Star break. We’ll have three or four guys back then, and that will help.”
D’Antoni believes that Nash is now “day-to-day” and also revealed that the point guard’s hamstring was “fired up”
Steve Blake - Returning just last week from the torn ligaments in his elbow, Blake has been performing better than many expected, recording a triple double last Wednesday in Cleveland, and averaging 8.2 assists per game in his five games back. In addition, he has knocked down 39.1 percent of his 3-pointers in those five games.
In Tuesday’s loss, Blake began feeling pain in his elbow after getting in an unlucky predicament:
“My arm got stuck in a screen between two guys and I hyperextended my arm again,” Blake said. “It hurt, but I wasn’t going to sit down. I just played through it.”
You admire the toughness in Blake, a guy that has developed a strong reputation for being a warrior on the court. Teammate Kobe Bryant has claimed that Blake is one of the toughest players in the league, and that itself says something.
Kendall Marshall - The new assist king for the Lakers suffered a rolled ankle in the third quarter on Tuesday. Marshall, too, remained in the game, after signaling to D’Antoni that he would be okay and attempted to walk off the pain. As horrible of luck the Lakers have had since November in terms of keeping guys on the floor, it’s quite surprising it wasn’t more serious. Be thankful, however, as D’Antoni doesn’t want to have to go through another “Lakers 8″ ordeal that occurred in Cleveland. Nobody, especially the refs, wants to see that again.
With Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Jodie Meeks, Xavier Henry, and Jordan Farmar all still sidelined, it’s going to be intriguing (to say the least) how D’Antoni manages the rotation with guys popping back in periodically after the All-Star break. Then again, do we really expect to keep everyone injury free once they’re back?
The Lakers will remain at home during this six-game home stand, and prepare to handle the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday. It will be their final matchup before the much needed All-Star break, and the task couldn’t be more challenging.
Oklahoma City received 36 points from the MVP-lock, Kevin Durant, on Tuesday to halt the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center, and have won 14 of their last 16 games.
Not only that, but the Thunder are 1-0 against Los Angeles this season, posting a 25-point victory in mid-December.
Why am I even dissecting this matchup …. there’s truly no denying the inevitable blood bath.
Take it easy, Slim Reaper.
Shane Young is an NBA credentialed writer for HoopsHabit.com and SB Nation’s IndyCornrows. For all Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers, or general NBA coverage, follow @YoungNBA and @HoopsHabit on Twitter.