LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 5: Gordon Hayward #20 of the Utah Jazz and Lamar Odom #7 of the Los Angeles Lakers fight for a loose ball at Staples Center on April 5, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
I don't know about you, but I've been praying for forgiveness for the last hour. I'm not what you would call a religious man, but after watching tonight's game, I felt the need to apologize for whatever transgressions against the Maker I've made. I'm not sure what I've done, but that doesn't matter. Penance must be paid. I suggest you do the same. I don't care what religion you belong to, there has to be a way for you to ask your idea of God to forgive you. If you don't believe in God, then just call your mother and apologize. I'm sure you've done something wrong. Because there can be no other explanation for what we just witnessed than punishment from an angry deity. This was angry Old Testament God at his worst, the basketball equivalent of forty days and forty nights of torrential downpour. Tonight, fire and brimstone (that's an old school word for brick, right?) rained down on our basketball souls. Oh, and the Lakers lost too.
All kidding aside (and apologies if you didn't appreciate that particular brand of sick humor) tonight's contest, an 86-85 loss at home to a team that has lost eight straight games, and was without literally half their roster, was an affront to the game of basketball. It made yesterday's national championship look like a barn-burner by comparison. I honestly don't know if I've watched a more poorly played game of ball in my life. Down the stretch, all I could think of was, win or lose, that this was the most Laker game of the season. What is a more perfect summation of everything this team represents than to lose this game, in this manner, after having played so well for so long. It was perfect, if perfect meant the exact opposite of what perfect means.
Please don't mistake this for anger, some out of control rant. I write these words not because I'm upset, or even annoyed at having wasted an hour of my life (and thank God that I DVR'd this contest so as to make the pain go down quicker). It's just that there really isn't a way to describe this contest in terms that could be applied to a normal professional basketball game. Gruesome doesn't do the numbers justice. They are horrific, from both teams. Shooting? Only a late surge saw the Utah Jazz hit 40%, a pathetic number the Lakers couldn't even manage. Turnovers? Plenty of those, 35 in total from both teams, with 19 for the Lakers. Points? Well, let's just say I was shocked that both the Lakers and Nuggets failed to score 1 point per possession in Sunday's contest, so you can imagine my thoughts when both the Lakers and Jazz failed to reach .90 points per tonight.
Give credit to Andrew Bynum for trying, dude cleaned up the glass pretty good. He upped his career high a fair bit in going for 23 boards, just two short of having more than half of his team's rebounds. Of course, just about any ball that didn't fall into Drew's hands went to the opposition. Credit the Jazz, who showed up on a night when showing up was enough. Gordan Hayward played great, scoring 22 points on 14 shots, including the most epic white man throw down the league has ever seen. He singlehandedly outscored the Lakers bench 22-19. He would have been joined in awesomeness by Derrick Favors, who scored 14 points on 9 shots, but Favors missed six of eight free throws. Credit Earl Watson because he didn't suck.
Everyone else, no matter the uniform, was garbage tonight. Steve Blake and Shannon Brown combined for the only Laker highlight of the night, a 50 foot alley oop dunk, but Brown continued his run of bad play, scoring 4 points on six shots, and Blake didn't score a single point, because he didn't attempt a single shot. And Luke Walton ... just wow. It's sort of funny, because I always thought a lack of aggressiveness was one of Luke's problems. Now, whenever he gets some burn, he's playing with aggression not seen since The Machine graced us with his presence, and the results are worse than I could ever have imagined. It's a good thing Walton isn't Japanese, because if he had any sense of samurai dignity, the man would be committing seppuku right now.
But we're wasting way too much time talking about the bench when the stars deserve the majority of the tough love. Pau Gasol had a game I'd like to dub "the Pau Gasol game", scoring 19 points on 10 shots, but only managing 5 boards on a night in which the Lakers got killed on the glass whenever big brother Drew wasn't on the court. Lamar Odom ended up with a decent line, but his outside shot was off all night, and that didn't stop him from taking some "Heat Check" quality shots down the stretch. And as for Kobe Bryant, he deserves to be sat down in front of a computer and forced to read the entire collection of True Hoop articles written in his honor as punishment for this game. He nearly completed the "bad Kobe" trifecta: Terrible shooting (on terrible shots), a bunch of turnovers, its too bad he picked up a bunch of assists or this game could have served as the perfect example that Kobe is everything that's wrong with basketball.
There are consequences for this letdown. Any chance the Lakers had of the #1 overall seed are done, and they aren't likely to catch the Bulls for the #2 seed overall either, so once again home court advantage in the Finals (with the requisite statements about "If they make it that far" attached) will depend on a bit of luck on the other side of the bracket. Sixty wins at this point would be a serious surprise, not because the Lakers are incapable, but because if they can throw together a stinkbomb like this when there's actually something to play for, how can we possibly think they will take the rest of the games left seriously?
In short, it seems for all the basketball knowledge in my head that the Lakers have decided to call it quits for the season. They saw what they needed to see in that 17 of 19 stretch of games, and the minor injuries to Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum in Sunday's contest scared them sufficiently enough that they've decided to ease off the gas pedal and cruise through the final laps. I don't much like it, but I'm hardly surprised. It's a very Laker thing to do.