Words can not describe the depths to which the Los Angeles Lakers have now sunk. Five days after winning back to back games over playoff bound Boston and New York, three days after losing by double digits to a good team, two days after losing by 20 points to a bad team, the Lakers have now lost to the worst team in basketball; to one of the worst teams in the history of basketball, a team they beat by 55 points just five weeks ago, a team that just set a record for futility across all major professional sports.
There are a lot of big words being thrown out there to describe this loss, or at least, a lot of loud words. Embarrassment; Shame; Rock Bottom; Worst loss in the history of the franchise. Allow me to throw another one on the pile ... Perversion. Over the course of this season, the Lakers have perverted the game of basketball. They have created within it a state of moral corruption. They have passed judgment on the regular season, and deemed it lacking in both meaning and substance. This team isn't "playing poorly" or "working out issues" or "struggling with complacency". What they are doing is nothing short of threatening the integrity of the game.
At its core, basketball is a simple game. You try to take a small round ball, and place it through a slightly larger round hoop, while other people try to prevent you from doing the same. Then, you try to prevent those other people from doing it. Behind all the rules and violations and sets and zones, it is a simple competition of skill and skill prevention. If you remove either aspect from the game, it becomes invalid. Last night, the Lakers did their best to remove both aspects. Instead of trying to put the ball in the basket, they decided to just throw the ball back to the other team. Instead of attempting to prevent the other team from scoring, they practically rolled out the red carpet and escorted their opponents to the hoop.
Is there any other way to read the Lakers' play than diabolical? How do you play four games against relatively high quality opponents on the road, and reign victorious over all of them with relative ease, and then turn around and lose three straight against teams of such rapidly declining quality that they represent a car driving off a cliff? How do you beat a team by a margin that was damn near greater than their total score, only to lose to the same team a short while later? At its core, basketball is a simple game, and under those simple tenets, what the Lakers have "accomplished" this season, both for good and for ill, should be impossible. That the Lakers make it possible shows how much they are degrading the moral fabric of the game.
A lot of you might be wondering what a result like this means to the Lakers' chances in the playoffs. Many of you are afraid that this game is an indication that the Lakers just don't have it this year. Whether because they are too old, or too unmotivated or too stupid, maybe this team really doesn't have what it takes to go the distance. Some of you remain confident; this team has won two straight championships for a reason, they remain supremely talented and supremely large, and that combination will be difficult to defeat come April, May, and maybe June. Me, I'm afraid of the same thing. I'm afraid that this game, this performance, this string of performances, will have no bearing on what will happen in the postseason.
At this point, I fear that the Lakers will end up with another championship trophy at the end of the season. I fear it, because as much as I'm supposed to root for them, as much as I'm supposed to be a fan of their exploits, I worry about the repercussions of such a victory. What kind of message will be sent about basketball if the Lakers put all this nonsense behind them to make another deep postseason run? Basketball is a sport, and the essence of sport is competition. If the Lakers can treat the regular season with this much disdain and still end up the victors at the end, it will serve notice that basketball's regular season is nothing more than an 82 game extension of the pre-season. It will be a proclamation that all of these games are not competitions, that they are simply exhibitions. If the Lakers can play like this, on a semi-regular basis, and still be "the best" this league has to offer, how does that make a regular season game any different, or any more important, than a professional wrestling match? Sure, the results remain unscripted, but the results are no more important. The Lakers aren't shaving points, or throwing games, but in a way, what they are doing is no less threatening to the game.
A competition requires that both (or all) parties in the competition must compete. The Lakers are violating that most basic tenet on a fairly regular basis. And if they go on this season to remain the champions of this league, it will confirm that the regular season has little competition to it. Such a revelation would do significant damage to the game itself. You shouldn't be able to win a marathon by running the last couple miles better than everybody else because you walked the first 20. It goes against the spirit of competition, and against the purpose of professional sports.
I am a fan of the Los Angeles Lakers. My desire is for them to win every game, to bring home every championship. But this season, I can't help but think the NBA as a whole might be better off if my team doesn't win in the end this time around.