Staples Center used to exemplify a winning atmosphere, nearly all the time.
It’s still that way in 2013-14, if you cut Hollywood’s fans in half. The Los Angeles Clippers have defended their home floor in the same manner the Lakers used to, during their days under the affluential Phil Jackson. Doc River’s Clippers currently own the Western Conference’s best home record (29-5), winning 85 percent of their matchups with the self-portraits hanging above.
Mike D’Antoni‘s Lakers, on the other hand, own the third worst home record in the entire league, losing 22 of their 33 games with the banners uncovered.
Getting the job completed in front of your home crowd, using the energy advantage, is supposed to be the business you take care of in any type of sport. Some slack can be given to the home thrashings by the hands of the West’s top seeded teams, for a variety of reasons. Los Angeles is missing their longest tenured superstar, they’re coached by a sub-par talent, and the roster includes a handful of non-starting guards that were thrown together through free agency and a mid-season trade.
The Lakers’ latest stumble was a bitter end to a spectacular NBA Friday, as the Washington Wizards improved to three games over .500 with a 117-107 victory on Los Angeles’ home floor.
It didn’t take all four quarters for Washington to take command, considering the Lakers allowed another offensive fiesta in the first period. It’s becoming an unhealthy trend for the team and fans, but opponents are enjoying the first quarter feast Los Angeles gives them. Allowing 30+ point quarters hasn’t been a rarity for the Lakers in March, and they’ve surrendered 27.9 points per first quarter this season. “It’s under 30, so it can’t be too horrid, right?” It ranks them third in the league in first quarter defense, behind only Denver and Philadelphia. Everyone is behind the 76ers in terms of lacking worth on court this season, so at least Los Angeles can maintain some pride.
John Wall didn’t hesitate to go to surgery on the incompetent defense, dishing nine assists in the opening 12 minutes, and helping Washington shoot 61 percent from the floor in the first. Pau Gasol, Los Angeles’ leading scorer, couldn’t find the bottom of the net with anything he attempted, starting the game 2-of-8 and becoming frustrated during the lopsided opening.
An 18-year veteran walked to the scorer’s table mid-way through the first quarter, forcing the crowd to applaud in appreciation. No, not Kobe Bryant.
Returning after D’Antoni speculated he would be ruled out the rest of the year, point guard Steve Nash saw his first minutes since Feb. 11, and made the most of them. Oddly enough, Friday marked the first time Nash entered the game as bench player since the 1999-2000 season. His body is far from that ideal health, and he has next season in the back of his mind, so starting isn’t important to the former MVP.
When the team announced Nash would be suiting up for Friday’s game, the initial reaction was one of distress, fearing that we’d be in store for more nerve root irritation or left leg tweaks.
That’s still the reaction, regardless of how well he appeared to move on the floor Friday.
A mixed bag of emotions can be taken away from Nash’s 19 minutes vs. Washington, but more than half of the bag consists of optimism.
In the midst of getting worked in the first half 58-47, the Lakers were given flashes of brilliance from their Hall-of-Fame bound point guard, with Nash showing exactly why you never sleep on finesse and basketball IQ.
Nash’s 11 dimes on Friday all ended in various results. Some were the lasting effect of transition pushes, while others topped off the Lakers’ halfcourt sets. What they all had in common — as does all of Nash’s passes — was confident, experienced decision-making. which has been one of this group’s largest lacks and reasons they’re 22-46. Every decision Nash made in the first half was quick, decisive, and all-in for working to get his teammates open looks. It doesn’t matter how old the guy is, those skills and intangibles aren’t leaving his game, which supports the same reasoning for Kobe Bryant remaining the league’s top offensive savage when he’s healthy.
The third quarter featured a comeback attempt for the Lakers, who scored 34 points in the period (allowing 30, once more). Nash sparked the offensive attack, moving the ball perfectly to teammates in scoring position. Even after a made bucket for Washington, he was looking to keep the Wizards on their feet by forcing the ball up court in what I call “semi-transition.”
Robert Sacre is a guy with extremely raw offensive skills — although he gets a rap for having none at all — and it was apparent that Nash’s presence brought out an extra level of confidence when he touched the ball. Sacre scored nine points in the third alone, including two buckets off great feeds from Nash. Not many would fire a pass up-court to the 7-footer and trust him to not only successfully handle it, but to make a play. Nash gave Sacre that power, and granted him with a strong flush in traffic. Even if it wasn’t in transition, Nash kept the big man involved. Pick-and-roll success made a quick appearance, with Sacre knocking down a mid-range jumper (something he only knocks down 33.3 percent of the time this season).
Another beneficiary of Nash’s flow with the ball turned out to be shooting guard Jodie Meeks, who tied Nick Young with a game-high 21 points. When Meeks wasn’t rolling the way needed, Nash also gave him the fastbreak opportunities. Once, with Washington’s defense in their own little world, he sent a pass up court that gifted Meeks a layup, with a chance for a 3-point play. Not too many people find open shooters better than Nash, and his eyes were always locked in on finding the corner shooters — a group often headlined by Meeks.
In a loss that involved John Wall torching an incapable defense for 28 points and 14 assists, it’s not wrong to be more intrigued with the short spurts Nash provided the crowd. We’ve been accustomed to this type of play from the former Kentucky Wildcat all season long — as Wall has his Wizards on the verge of a playoff berth. What we haven’t had enough time of, however, is the breaking down of how different this Lakers’ record could look with a backcourt general — not just the inexperienced Kendall Marshall — at the point guard position.
It’s just one appearance. It was just 19 minutes of action …. against a team barely over .500 in the deplorable Eastern Conference.
But, at the same time, it was more than enough to leave viewers with questions they desperately want answers to. Would the Lakers make a correct decision to give the point guard the last year in his contract to play the game he’s destined for? Is Friday’s small sample, as well as his 19 point game in Philadelphia, what we can expect for at least the majority of next season?
Based on the determined look of his face after checking out Friday evening, Nash may be convincing people that the answer is “yes.”