Hugh Lang: "You don't remember getting your blood drawn the night of the crash? You had alcohol in your system. That could be life in prison."
Captain Whitaker: "Someone put me in a broken plane."
Hugh Lang: "Someone has to pay."
It's been a long and winding season for the Los Angeles Lakers. One could argue that the highest point of the season came before a single game was played on the hardwood. Before the preseason, before media day, and before the group had ever gathered in Southern California. The Summer of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash was many, many losses ago and many, many disappointments ago, but was a moment of jubilation.
It's been all downhill from there. What goes up...
It didn't just come down, though, for the Lakers throughout the season. It was a storm that has left them shipwrecked miles off the pacific coast, hanging onto a few floating pieces of debris as they tread water, hoping they make it back to shore. There's blood in the water, the sharks are hungry, and there are five games left for those bullies of the ocean to maul what remains of the 2012-2013 Lakers.
There was a radioactive cloud above their season, and as the torrential rains pelted them like rocks, it turned them into a debilitated mess. This team has been poisoned, mutated, and turned into something hardly recognizable. At times looking like a team that can make noise in the NBA playoffs, at other times looking like a team that chooses to make noise with an empty Campbell's soup can on the corner as they sift the loose change inside back and forth. Begging for money so they can storm the nearest liquor store and purchase another handle of Popov vodka with their quarters, nickles, dimes, and occasional dollar bills. On night's that they play after guzzling and pumping up their BAC it's as if we can see their pores sweating the liquor out and smell the fumes on their breath as they huff and puff through their short-rotation. The Staples Center just a hot air balloon they keep inflated with the cheap liquor they exhale.
Another missed defensive rotation, another transition layup given up, another lazy pass slipping away from their drunken fingertips. The fumes of the alcohol so strong that it's intoxicating just watching --staring, hoping, wishing -- only to blackout as they tread along.
The morning after is more of the same. The sober reality that the Lakers are about to hit the ocean and need something close to a miracle in order to arrive to the destination we all thought we were heading towards when we strapped on our safety belts and listened to the captain on the overhead. A hangover complete with blurred vision, a pounding headache, and a hazy memory as to what exactly happened the prior night. As the reminder hits, it's hard not to pour more of the Popov into my high pulp Simply Orange juice as the search for light in a very dark place continues.
Pick and roll defense? Dwight looks better, he's finally shutting down dribble penetration. How's Steve Blake doing? Better than Duhon, and better than the Blake of the past. Can Kobe keep it up? Well he's doing it now,. Getting to the rim and looking better than he has for years. Is Mike D'Antoni the right coach? Hard to tell, but all this roster change and no off season.
It's just injuries, it's just injuries, it's just injuries...
Truth is, it can be any combination of factors that have the Lakers out of the playoffs with only five games to change a reality that could haunt their franchise. Should the Lakers miss the playoffs there are only nine days remaining of purple and gold basketball. Nine days for Time Warner Cable SportsNet to ride their coverage of the Lakers. Nine days for Silver Screen and Roll to prepare game previews and recaps. Nine days until a playoffs without the Lakers.
Surely when the season comes to an end -- whether it's April 17, the second round of the playoffs, or after capturing a championship against all odds -- there will be plenty of reflection from everybody invested in the Lakers. From the tip-top with Jim Buss, Mitch Kupchak, and the front office, to the players who can finally put the bottle down, to the fans who pay a copious amount of money to attend as many Lakers games as they can, to the people who observe from a distance. What the future holds is a mystery, but what the present is is a downright disaster that can't and wont be downplayed.
So, soak it in for whatever it will be for the time that's left. It may not be pretty, it may not lead to the playoffs, and it may never look the same again. Howard could walk away from the Lakers to his team of choice, granted they have the salary cap available to throw at the superstar center. Kobe Bryant may have given us the last great season he has left in those old legs, finally succumbing to Father Time when he enters the $30 million final year of his contract. Nash has already presented the dangers of touting a nearly 40 year old point guard as a starter. Pau Gasol will tick another season older after having a disastrous time navigating his first season with Mike D'Antoni and his deteriorating body. The Lakers will once again have to piece together a roster with exceptions and minimums, hoping the allure of wearing a purple and gold jersey through an 82 game season is enough to negotiate with players who could potentially yield more elsewhere. A year removed from looking like a rag-tag guerilla warfare group more than the purple and gold army that has marched on the league year after year.
All that said, it's not over yet. The Lakers have a golden opportunity to do something for themselves in these final five games of the season. They have a chance to prove to themselves, the players who have ridden out this disaster together, that they want it. That they won't give up without a fight, and won't stay down no matter how many punches they've taken.
The fight against elimination does not begin in the playoffs for the Lakers, but Tuesday against the New Orleans Hornets. All the talk of the playoffs being a difference maker for a team built like the Lakers will be put to the test as the regular season comes to an end, with the Lakers having a preliminary series just to make it into the top eight of the Western Conference.
They can do it, though. They are the Los Angeles Lakers. They have Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, and those championship banners up in the rafters that have been brought to the city because of great sacrifice and great will. A punchers chance is all they've ever needed -- an opportunity to settle in against a single opponent in a series that they, as a unit, can hone in on. Metta World Peace can be back sooner than later, Jordan Hill still has an outside chance of making it back to the lineup, and Howard looks better game-by-game. Plus, once Nash is back, they'll be out of the dire straits of having one point guard on the roster. They can do it. It's five games of focus, with four games at home, and one goal left for the team to work towards together. Make the playoffs.
Now if you'll excuse me, I've finished my breakfast and second glass of orange juice and vodka so the buzz is just setting in. Third time's a charm. If that plane hits the ground, someone has to pay even if the hardware was faulty to begin with. This drinks to whomever that may be.
- Follow this author on Twitter @DrewGarrisonSBN