The NBA is weeks away from crowning a new champion, but the Lakers' participation in the 2011-12 campaign already feels like a distant memory. The purp and gold didn't have a bad season, exactly. While adapting to an entirely new coaching staff, without the benefit of a real training camp, they won 41 games (which prorates to 51 in a normal season), took the third seed in a ferocious Western Conference and beat a very good Denver Nuggets team in the first round. Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum won and deserved All-NBA honors, and the squad as a whole avoided career-crippling injuries. It could've been a lot worse, and I thought it was headed that way when they began the season by losing nine of their first 20.
All the same, the end result was a disappointing one. For the second straight year the Lake Show got hammered in the second round of the playoffs, and except for very brief stretches they never looked like they were on the path to a title. Meanwhile, Kobe, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace aged deeper into their thirties. There were some nice moments - and tomorrow we'll count down the five best, the ones we'll remember most warmly - but for the most part it was six months of fitful anxiety over Kobe's shot selection, Drew's maturity, Pau's fugue states, Jim Buss's management skills and a dozen other issues that, although they never boiled over into full-scale crisis, never quite got solved either.
To help draw a line under it all, here are the five moments from this past season we'd just as soon have erased from our mental scrapbook, Eternal Sunshine-style. Wallow with us after the jump.
5. May 10: Nuggets Vaporize Lifeless Lakers in Game Six
Bad enough the Lakers didn't handle their business by closing out the Nuggets in Game Five back at Staples, but their no-show in Game Six took things to a new stratum of embarrassment. The Nugs began the night with a 13-0 run and at one point led by 28. Though suffering from the flu Kobe scored 31 points. No one else in a Laker uniform showed the least bit of professional pride. Pau missed 9 of 10 shots and collected just three boards in the worst performance of his NBA career. The loss ensured that even if the Lakers took Game Seven (spoiler alert: they did), they'd start the second round weary and with no time to prepare for the Thunder.
4. December 11: Lamar Odom Given Away to Dallas
Credit the front office for knowing something we didn't. They knew Lamar wasn't physically or mentally ready for the season and wouldn't come close to duplicating his Sixth Man of the Year campaign from the year before. Testing his value on the trade market, especially after he bitched up a storm over the failed Chris Paul trade, was the right idea. And the trade exception the Lakers received is still out there and could prove useful if they find another team looking to offload someone decent but expensive.
But I just don't believe Lamar would've played as badly in L.A. this season, surrounded by friends and the teammates he'd won titles with, as he did in Dallas. He could've played his way into shape over the course of the season; that's what Metta did. He should've been given time to cool off and some love from the organization to let him know he was still part of the Laker family. Certainly the team could've used even a diminished Lamar Odom, without whom they never found stability or consistent production at the power-forward position.
3. May 16: Fourth Quarter Collapse in OKC
It was a near-certainty the Lakers would lose Game One in Oklahoma City, and they did, horrendously. Game Two was their chance to regroup, marshal their scattered forces and serve notice that they could hang with the Thunder. The Lakers did all those things... and still lost. In the second half they'd strangled the OKC offense and turned the contest into a grim, grinding, half-court game, and with two minutes left they led by seven. That's when the roof decided to cave in. In their final six possessions the Lakers committed three turnovers, Kobe missed twice and Steve Blake missed an open three that called forth death threats from the social medias. In the meantime the Thunder tore off nine straight points, most of them from within inches of the rim. The Lakers were this close to grabbing home-court advantage, and it all came unglued in two horrifying minutes.
2. December 8: "Basketball Reasons"
For about 90 minutes on a truly bizarre Thursday evening, Chris Paul was a Laker. Had David Stern not interfered with a fairly negotiated deal that should've been allowed to go through, the Lakers would be playing in the conference finals right now. Did the Clippers make a better offer? Yes, eventually. I don't care. The Lakers and Hornets made a deal, and Stern stepped in only after Dan Gilbert and Mark Cuban bitched about Paul getting sent to the Lakers specifically. The whole thing was dirty as hell. Incredibly, you can still find people who think the league's rigged in the Lakers' favor.
1. May 19: Fourth Quarter Collapse, The Remix
Game Two in OKC, bad as it seemed, wasn't a must-win. The Lakers could win Games Three and Four back at Staples and take their puncher's chance in a shortened series. Game Three went well, and when the Lakers outplayed the Thunder for the first three-and-a-half quarters of Game Four, it was possible to believe in them again. It started to look like Game One was a fluke, like the Lakers and Thunder were about even. It began to seem that maybe Mike Brown was getting the upper hand over Scottie Brooks. With 7:45 to play in the fourth quarter, the Lakers led by 11 and you could feel the old purple and gold magic start to simmer.
LULZ, NOAP. What followed was the most devastating home-court loss since Game Four against Boston in 2008. The Lakers' energy deserted them, along with their court sense and shooting touch. A dead-legged defense was unable to stop Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant down the stretch, Kobe missed and missed and missed some more, and when Pau threw the ball away with 33 seconds left, that was that. The series didn't officially end until two nights later, but Game Five was pure formality. After the Game Four disaster, the Lakers were a dead team walking.
Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.