In charge of writing today's piece, I knew immediately after watching the game that I had no interest in analyzing it in depth. Dex took care of the nuts and bolts of how the Lakers could lose at home by nearly 20 points to a team well below .500. Going deep on a game like that is a waste of time. So I started searching my brain for a topic and, having recently discovered all the team and player index researching options at Basketball-Reference.com, I decided to turn this into a research piece. I decided to find out what the worst losses in Lakers history are, and compare them to last night's game.
Quick caveat: B-R's database of games only goes back to the 1986-1987 season, so that's all the research I was able to do. There may very well be a loss pre-1986 that is far worse than any which have happened since, but I don't have access to it, so it doesn't exist. I suppose a more accurate title to the piece would be "The worst loss in the past 25 years", but that doesn't have the same ring to it as "The worst loss ever". I guess you can add aesthetics to humor under my "acceptable uses for hyperbole" category. Great, now Paris Hilton thinks I'm the biggest hypocrite ever.
My theory on just where last night's loss placed in the pantheon of losses started small. First, I looked at all Laker losses since the beginning of the most recent championship era. Over the past 2+ seasons, the Lakers have lost 50 regular season games, but last night was only the fourth time they've lost by 19 or more points. The other three were in Denver on 11/13/09 (26 point loss), in San Antonio on 1/12/2010 (20 points), and at home to San Antonio on 4/4/2010 (19 points). All three are bad losses, but they all came against good teams, and two of them were on the road. I don't think any one of them compares to the embarrassment of getting your ass handed to you by a team that's failing to make the playoffs in an Eastern Conference where a 40% win rate books your ticket. So it's official, last night's loss was the worst of the current championship era.
I ambitiously decided to expand my search to the history of the franchise. In order to do so without having to look at over-large amounts of data, I decided to establish some criteria. The first criteria for "The worst loss ever" is that it had to come at home. I don't care how bad an opponent is, there isn't nearly as much shame in getting killed on the road as there is getting killed at home. Any team can get hot and play with great energy for one night in front of their home fans, just as even the best teams will sometimes have a dud game in the midst of a road trip where they simply do not have their legs. For a loss to truly rank among the worst, it has to happen in the home arena, in which an opponent comes in and destroys you as your own fans stare silently in shock. Or boo. Yeah, if you lose by double digits at home, they are probably booing.
So, by removing road losses from the criteria, I found the Lakers have lost a total of 247 times in Los Angeles in the past 25 years. Of those 247, only 19 losses were by 19+ points. Numerically, the worst Lakers loss since 1986 was a 36 point beat down by the hand of the Dallas Mavericks on 3/11/2007, Dallas' revenge game in response to Kobe Bryant outscoring their entire team through three quarters the previous season. There are another six games in which the Lakers have lost by 25 or more points at home, but they all occurred during the Dark Ages between 1992-1995, in between Magic's early retirement and the arrival of Shaq and Kobe, which brings me to the next criteria for The worst loss ever: The team has to be good while they are losing bad. There is no shame in losing to a better team. There is shame in giving up and getting killed by a better team, but it is also a somewhat understandable condition, especially when a team has become conditioned to being the worse team on a nightly basis. Giving up and getting killed by a worse team? There is no greater shame than that.
How to define a good team? Just throwing out the definition of making the playoffs doesn't work, because the Lakers have made the playoffs in all but five seasons, so it doesn't really rule anything out, so I settled on the Western Conference Finals as the benchmark. If the team couldn't make it to the final four, they weren't good enough to be considered for the worst loss ever. That might seem outlandish, but consider that the Lakers have gone to the NBA Finals in roughly half of all NBA seasons. Adding the conference finalist seasons brings the total to about two out of every three seasons that the Lakers have been "good", even under this very strict definition.
Not surprisingly, this whittles down the results quite a bit. There are three losses (not including last night's) that meet all of our criteria so far. We've already disregarded last season's loss to the Spurs in this competition, because the Spurs are a decent team, and we can similarly disregard a 24 point beatdown at the hands of the Sacramento Kings on 3/8/2001 (remember when the Kings were good? Fun times). That leaves only one potential candidate to stand up against last night for the title of Worst Loss Ever; On January 7th, 2001, the defending champion Lakers lost at home, by 23 points, to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Ooof, that's pretty bad. I don't actually remember the game firsthand, but a review of the box score reveals no excuses that can explain the game away. Both Shaq and Kobe were healthy. Shaq played great, with 33 points on 67% shooting (he did miss 11 of 20 FTs though). Kobe played alright, scoring 27 points, but needing 24 shots to get there. And Brian Shaw played well (of course he did), adding an additional 15 points, but the rest of the team shot 24% from the field. The Clippers were led by a star performance from a promising young 2nd year player you might have heard of, one Lamar Odom, who scored 29 points on 18 shots. Behind LO and a hot night from 3 pt range, the Clippers took it to the champs for one night only.
How does that defeat stack up against last night's? It's a tough call. The Clippers entered that game with a record of 12-23, and they ended the season at 31-51. At 11-16, the Bucks record projects to be higher than both of those marks. Both the 2001 and modern day versions of the Lakers were defending champions, and neither had any significant injury issues that could explain a let down of this magnitude. But I personally think context sways the Worst Loss Ever title towards last night's tilt.
What context? The Bucks just lost Brandon Jennings this week, their leading scorer and the soul to Andrew Bogut's heart of the Bucks team. In their first game without Jennings, the Bucks were beat down by 26 points in Portland, That game also took place two nights ago, as part of one of the toughest back-to-backs (travel-wise) in the league. The Bucks were also without Drew Gooden, their starting power forward, and that should have been a debilitating condition since the Lakers boast the best front court in the league. In short, the Bucks had no depth, a tough travel schedule, and were still figuring out on the fly how to deal without a major piece of their team. Meanwhile, the Clippers were a healthy, young , up-and-down team (inconsistency means sometimes you play great) playing a road game in their home arena. They slept in their own beds, they went through a completely normal daily routine, the only things unfamiliar about the whole experience for them were the colors on the hard wood and the fact that their opponents were stinking it up instead of them.
It's a close call, and I can understand why you might disagree, but if you add up all the factors, I think last night's loss might be the worst, most embarrassing, loss in the history of the franchise (circa 1986). You know it's not hyperbole, because it's coming from me, and it's not a joke. There's nothing funny about it at all.