Do you ever have one of those days where you know something bad is going to happen? Not terrible, just something annoying or disappointing? And then a whole bunch of other stuff comes along and distracts you and you forget all about your previous expectations of vexation, only for the exact thing you were expecting to come true, and then you feel stupid for getting caught up in all the nonsense that precluded it?
That's this game in a nutshell.
This was a schedule loss. It was always a schedule loss. From the moment the NBA released the scheduless for all teams (a moment which precludes the acquisition of a certain superstar by a certain team, by the way), the league was basically dictating tonight's game being added to the loss column for the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers were playing on the second night of a back to back. They were playing their 4th game in 5 nights, their 14th in 20 days since the season started. Only the Chicago Bulls have played as many games as the Lakers, and the Bulls have a younger and deeper squad than the Lakers do. The Clippers, meanwhile, have been resting for the past two days. It was the sixth time this season they've played on two days rest, something the Lakers haven't done all season. Tonight's victory was their 9th contest.
None of this is to complain about said schedules. They are a byproduct of a season being crammed into the allotted time like clowns in a hatchback. The Clippers will undoubtedly have games later this season in which they are at a significant disadvantage against a team that is more rested and less traveled than they are. These things balance out over the course of the season. This is simply to point out that if the Lakers were outworked, it's understandable. If the Lakers looked tired, it's understandable. And that the Lakers were able to prevent this game from being a blowout, against a very strong opponent, under dire circumstances, is reason to take a certain amount of belief from a game that ended in defeat.
In that context, with a loss the expected result coming in, perhaps we should be happy about the distractions. Perhaps we should be grateful that Kobe Bryant provided us with yet another seminar on ridiculously difficult shot making. Perhaps we should be happy that the Lakers clawed back in the 2nd half because the Clippers' attempts to get under their skin instead woke them up. Perhaps we should thank Kobe for providing us with plenty of ammunition for both sides of the debate regarding how the offense should be run. At least we've been given something more provocative to analyze than "tired team loses to less tired team".
We'll start with Kobe. His numbers are ridiculous, as they have been consistently for the past week or so. 42 points, his 4th 40 point game in a row, on 14-28 shooting. With free throws and his two turnovers, he used 36 possessions to get his points, which all in all is not a bad return on investment. Hell, the 28 field goal attempts were actually less than he's taken in any of his other 40 point efforts ... and yet, tonight's performance seemed to be step back in many ways for Kobe. His increase in scoring, aside from yesterday's 3 point barrage which was purely of the "I can't be stopped" variety, has been accompanied by a change in the way that Kobe has been getting to those shots. He's been moving more off the ball, catching the ball with little to do but rise and fire, or working more in the post. Tonight, however, was more about just getting the ball in his hands and attacking his defender, from a starting spot either just behind or just in front of the three point line. There were times when he fired shots over a double team. There were other times when he waited far too long to pass out of double teams, putting his teammates into difficult spots with short shot clocks. Make no mistake, Kobe's offensive performance was remarkable. But it was not the blueprint for how you want this team to operate offensively. This team has too much talent to require the Full Mamba, and that's exactly what we've seen in high dosages in the past few games.
But that other talent didn't have a particularly strong game in this one. Pau Gasol did not shoot the ball well, hitting 7-17 (with no free throws) for 14 points. He pulled in 10 boards, but he was one of the primary culprits in allowing the Clippers to pile up thirteen 1st half offensive rebounds. Andrew Bynum didn't fare much better, scoring 12 points on 13 shots (missing all three of his free throws). He pulled in 16 boards, but had zero blocks. Nobody else scored more than seven points, and the rest of the guys were generally undistinguished.
One guy who was not was Darius Morris. Tonight, for the first time, I got the impression that Morris might just provide the Lakers a resource for some youth off the bench. That impression was made as Morris was getting torched by Chris Paul, who was spectacular in going for 33 points on 22 shots and 6 assists. Paul beat Morris a number of times (most, it should be said, with the use of that sly little off arm push Paul uses on just about every drive), but Morris deserves credit for never hanging his head and continuing to play with a high level of energy. And he also provided all of the non-Kobe highlights this game had to offer, whether it was a sweet bounce pass to Pau Gasol on the break, a lob to Gasol in a half-court set, or a ridiculous double pump 60 footer at the end of the 1st quarter, directly following Chris Paul's most glaring abuse of the rookie in the game.
Also there to distract us was an underlying chippy-ness that we've now seen in two of the three games in which these teams have faced each other (including the pre-season). Put simply, now that the Clippers are getting some positive press, you can see the chip on their shoulder every time they play the "big brother" Lakers. Previously, the Clippers didn't have enough spirit to care that their "home" games against the Lakers still saw a majority of the folks in attendance wearing purple and gold, but now that they have a team strong enough to challenge the Lakers in the standings, you can see how they want to prove themselves in every Lakers contest. That leads to physicality, which leads to aggression, which just needs a spark to be set off. It didn't happen tonight, but I'd be very surprised if every Lakers-Clippers contest this season made it through to the end without any ejections.
See? Distractions. Plenty of stuff to talk about, so that we might forget that this game's result could have been analyzed weeks ago. This was a schedule loss, and it won't be the last we see in a season packed like a can of sardines.