I'm not one for making excuses. They are usually unbecoming, and believing that you have a valid excuse for failure is usually the first step to actually failing. A team that holds itself accountable under any circumstances, regardless of the hardships faced, will be a better team because they will never give up in the face of adversity. I hope the Lakers are one of those teams. I hope they don't believe in excuses. I don't believe in excuses, but I do believe in reasons.
Reasons are the same as excuses, except without the context of acceptance. A reason explains why something unfortunate happened, an excuse explains it and absolves someone of blame or responsibility for causing the unfortunate event. Reasons are important, because without them we may never know how to prevent something unfortunate from happening again. Excuses are worthless because they seek to justify the unfortunate event, without necessarily addressing the event's prevention. However, in the face of so many reasons why the Lakers lost last night's game against the Jazz, I have to just come out and say it. The Lakers are excused for this loss.
- Kobe Bryant was playing his first full game with an avulsion fracture at the tip of the index finger on his shooting hand. That finger is in a "splint" made up of a thin rod of metal running along the finger, and a strong piece of plastic that the rod is attached to, which surrounds the finger. So Kobe is basically shooting the ball with an index finger that can't bend, and probably hurts like hell too.
- On top of that, he caught a stomach bug that had him visibly afflicted. He could barely get up and down in the 4th quarter, and shot terribly because he couldn't attack the rim, and couldn't get lift on his jumpshot. Another overlooked factor of this illness is that it prevented him from doing very much shooting before the game, and none at halftime. He's basically re-learning how to shoot on the fly, in order to compensate for the fracture, and he had no time to practice.
- They were playing the Jazz at home, never an easy proposition. Further, they just beat the same team 4 days ago, and beat them in a fashion that ended up making the Jazz feel humiliated. One of the best home teams in the league, filled with motivation to seek revenge, not 4 days from the previous game? Ouch.
- The Lakers were on an 11 game win streak, and while they didn't play lights out in every game, they really only played poorly in one of the victories. They were due for a poor effort.
- They played at 7:30 pm on Friday night, flew 600 miles to Salt Lake City, and then played at 6 pm the next night. Back to backs aren't necessarily worthy of an excuse, but back-to-backs in which you have to travel across two states and one timezone have a way of catching up to you. Just ask any Denver Nuggets opponent.
- On top of non game-related details, it was also just one of those nights where the Lakers couldn't make any shots, and the Jazz made a whole lot of theirs. The Lakers never got their shot going. 3-21 from the outside, and while some of that is on Kobe (who went 1-9 and tried to shoot the Lakers back into the game in the 4th quarter when he clearly didn't have the energy), but even without his poor performance, 2-12 is still terrible.
- The end shooting numbers balanced out for Utah, but Ronnie Brewer made a bunch of the outside shots that L.A. has made a policy of just giving him because his shot could well be the ugliest in the NBA. He ended the game 8-13 (with more than half coming from mid range or outside), and his 20 foot fade away at the buzzer sealed the game, and my opinion that the loss is acceptable.
Have you ever seen so many reasons why a team would struggle going into a game? Don't get me wrong, I understand it could have been worse. I understand that Kobe could have broken his whole hand, that they could be playing with 6 players like Golden State did earlier in the year. The whole team could have been playing with swine flu. There is always a worst-case scenario that is far beyond what will ever happen in reality. But I can't remember a single game in the past that had so many non-injury related factors going against the Lakers before tip-off even began. And despite all this, despite all the reasons why this should have been a duplicate of the road game against Denver and an absolute massacre, the Lakers only lost by 8. The game wasn't close down the stretch, it was a comfortable win for the home team, but the Lakers won the 4th quarter, which is a good show that they never gave up on the game.
Dex said in the post-game that it was clear that Kobe shouldn't have played, but I disagree. In the "hindsight is 20:20" category, it might have been a bad idea for Kobe to attempt to play like he always does, but I don't think playing in the game will make either of his conditions worse. And I certainly don't think that giving Kobe's minutes to Sasha would have made the Lakers effort stronger last night. Despite the horrible shooting and the defense which lacked energy, Kobe is still more of a threat than Sasha or Shannon Brown would have been. Without Luke Walton, the Lakers really only go 8 deep at this point, and the 8th player (UPS) hasn't really been providing a whole lot of late. The Lakers wouldn't have won without Kobe, and they could have won with him if they made a few more outside shots. So I think it was the right decision, and as long as Kobe doesn't look too weary Tuesday against Chicago, I'll stand behind it.
I told you all this ahead of time. Kobe's finger injury came at just the wrong time when we need a top-performing Kobe the most, so the Lakers may lose a few more games than we are comfortable with over the next month or so. Just keep telling yourself "We are the Champs". It's got to be good for something, right?