Los Angeles Lakers: Finishing Off An Atrocious Season

Being a Los Angeles Lakers fan is a thrilling, everlasting ride.  It’s an expedition that, honestly, has spoiled it’s fans more than people realize.

Lakers

Jan 24, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) smiles and laughs on Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol (16) against the Orlando Magic during the second quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The interminable journey includes its bumps and bruises, mixed with social media melees, and occasional overreactions, but the most storied franchise in NBA history does set the bar extremely high in terms of expectations.

Since the 2011 Playoffs, it’s been tough (to say the least) for Lakers fans to accept that their team isn’t playing meaningful basketball in June.  It’s just the reality of the sport, and life in general.  Guys improve, teams figure you out, rosters transform, a superstar ditches Cleveland to join two All-Stars, and above anything else … a team’s dominance just runs out of time.  After three straight NBA Finals appearances (2008 loss and 2009-10 titles), Phil Jackson‘s Lakers ran out of gas, firepower, and motivation to complete a three-peat.  Jackson was retired by Jason Terry, Dirk Nowitzki, and the Dallas Mavericks, and the rebuilding process was then propelled into the foreseeable future.

Flash forward two and half years later.  The names on the current Lakers’ roster, as well as the performances, would blow away any hardcore fan from the 1980′s, or even the 2000′s.  No … not in a good way.

Los Angeles is now labeled as a bottom-feeder in the NBA, falling to 18-35 after Kevin Durant issued a fourth quarter execution in Thursday’s final game before the All-Star break.

The worst aspect of being a fan of the game, or the purple and gold specifically, has loudly made its presence known this season.

Injuries, injuries, and … more injuries.

Since November (or April 2013 if you want to get technical), these 2013-14 Lakers have suffered the worst injury bug that professional sports has witnessed in a long, long time.

Lakers

Mar 22, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) and point guard Steve Nash (10) in the second half of the game against the Washington Wizards at the Staples Center. Wizards won 103-100. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Kobe Bryant’s Achilles tear killed the heart and soul of Hollywood for the time being, but he recovered in a impressive manner.  However, we know the luck he’s had since hoisting his fifth championship trophy, so it didn’t end there.  Attempting to own Tony Allen the same way he did for seven games in the 2010 Finals, Bryant hit the floor with what turned out to be a left tibial plateau fracture.  His return to the court has an uncertain timetable, but the five time champion is on record saying he wants to finish out the season on the court — not on the bench with doctor’s appointments looming.

Then there’s poor Steve Nash, who worked as hard as anyone to recover from the nerve root irritation that has bothered him since being victim to a broken left leg in the second game of the 2012-13 season.  Finally making it back to the court after taking more than two months off working out in Vancouver, Nash left in two of the Lakers’ recent home games (vs. Chicago, Utah).  He did not participate in the Thursday’s loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the remaining portion of the season doesn’t seem promising to feature the 40-year-old point guard without more of the same problems.

“On one hand, I’m lucky I’ve gotten the better part of 18 years,” Nash told Grantland in a video interview.  “On the other hand, it will never be the same again.”

Another veteran point guard, Steve Blake, has had a frustrating winter as well.  Experiencing a torn ligament in his right elbow, Blake returned in early February to post quality numbers (including a triple double), but has been noticing substantial pain in the elbow once again.  He has remained active, but it’s alarming that the guy Bryant claims is “one of the toughest in the league” is expressing his pain.

Xavier Henry — the lost player in all of this heartbreaking news — had his right knee drained on Wednesday and is now ruled out for at least another four weeks.  Originally diagnosed with a bone bruise on his knee, Henry wasn’t expected to miss a month and a half.  Los Angeles needs his energy and aggressive attacks into the paint, and now they won’t receive it until late March.  There won’t be much excitement with this team when that time arrives.

Lakers

When the best scoring options off the bench go down with the injury plague … it’s not meant to be. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Young, who suffered a non-displaced fracture/bone bruise in his left knee during the comical win at Cleveland on Feb. 5, will be re-evaluated following the All-Star break.  Swaggy P’s scoring is something Los Angeles truly needed in the home debacle to Utah, in which the Lakers posted 79 points and were forced to rely on Chris Kaman playing trigger happy.  That’s Young’s specialty, but at least he has been the most consistent 20-point guy for D’Antoni thus far.

The Spaniard, Pau Gasol, has his own problems to worry about this offseason, as his large contract expires and the future is dicey for the versatile big.  While he has stayed relatively healthy this season, Gasol missed the first six games of February due to a strained groin he managed to play with during the battles with the Indiana Pacers (Jan. 28) and Charlotte Bobcats (Jan. 31).  Team doctors feel as if Gasol can return for Wednesday’s home meeting with the Houston Rockets, so we’ll see how his body feels after a relaxing weekend watching the All-Stars perform.  As tremendous as the Rockets have been during their start to the new year, Los Angeles will need some low post scoring to match the intensity Dwight Howard will bring back to Staples Center.  On a side note, that’s sure to be the largest boo-fest of the year when Howard runs through the tunnel in front of the ill-tempered Lakers fans.

Jordan Farmar (left hamstring/calf) has been going through the same lingering injury since December, and can’t seem to get back on the court without setback after setback.  He’ll likely return next week, which is the same timetable Jodie Meeks (right ankle) is placed on.  Meeks is truly not the guy to worry about, since ankle injuries occur all the time in the sport of basketball.  It’s recurring leg issues that scare many of us.

What’s Left?

While many teams look forward to the 31 remaining games on their schedule, the Lakers can’t be too thrilled about their final 29 before the season’s end.

If the team is truly on board with the “making a run” approach to end the year, that notion is quickly shut down due to 22 of their 29 remaining games being against Western Conference foes.

Lakers

November 15, 2012; El Segundo, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak (left) sits next to new head coach Mike D

As for campaigners of the “tank” technique and the ones that enjoy Los Angeles suffering defeats, their wishes may be granted …. quite often.

How have the Lakers stacked up against the talent they face in the final 29 games?

It’s not very Laker-like, let’s say that.  Los Angeles is 11-26 this season against the teams they have remaining on their schedule.

The seven games versus Eastern Conference squads aren’t that promising neither, based on what transpired before the All-Star break.  Boston, Brooklyn, Indiana, Washington, Orlando, New York, and Milwaukee are all on the calendar.  Thus far, the Lakers have compiled a 2-5 record against these teams.  The only two wins came off a Kendall Marshall heroic performance (Boston, Jan. 17) and a second quarter barrage by Farmar (Brooklyn, Nov. 27).  Orlando unleashed Tobias Harris at the right moment and posted 114 points on the fragile Lakers’ defense, while John Wall looked like a sure-fire superstar in the Wizards’ late-game closeout against D’Antoni’s unit.

It doesn’t matter what conference, division, or city the Lakers have competed in.  They’ve appeared horrible just about everywhere in 2013-14.

The Lakers’ New Year’s resolution surely couldn’t have been “Lock down defensively,” for heaven’s sake.  If it was, they can chock up another missed goal.

Since January began (21 games), Los Angeles has done a fairly well job in the scoring department, averaging 102.8 points per contest.  Defensively?  Try a complete opposite.  Allowing 109.1 points per game in those 21 matchups, the Lakers have recorded a  -6.3 point differential to kick off 2014.  Take the stat in literal terms and realize that it’s not a good thing, at all.  Scoring is nice and all, but not when you’re allowing teams to break the century mark — and then some — nearly every night.

Currently tied with the Sacramento Kings for last place (15th) in the unforgiving Western Conference, the Lakers will miss the playoffs for the first time since the 2004-05 season, and the second time in the last 19 years.  Don’t jump on the bandwagon and blame the coach, Jim Buss, or the personnel.

There’s not a single thing any coach in the league could do about guys dropping quicker than flies.  The luck with injuries was the basketball gods’ way of telling the front office that it’s time to reshape the culture of the Lakers, and contend for something other than a title this year.  They needed to compete for youth, and that’s what they’ll be getting in the 2014 Draft thanks to the horrendous season.  From that perspective, job well done.

Kobe Bryant is the one thing the organization is not going to reshape.  The thought of rebuilding has to make his blood boil.  The silver lining, however, is that it is the key for this team to pave their way to a 17th banner.  Second to Boston is something they no longer want to acknowledge.

Topics: Jim Buss, Jodie Meeks, Kendall Marshall, Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers, Mike D'Antoni, Mitch Kupchak, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash

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