This is part of the "Beast or Burden" series covering recent trends for the Los Angeles Lakers, recapping the highlights (and lowlights) of the Lakers' most recent contests. Read previous columns in this series here.
For the briefest of moments, it was there: Hope. The belief that the Lakers had tricks up their sleeve that had not yet been revealed. For 9 glorious minutes, as the Lakers took the court against the Los Angeles Clippers, they did something previously thought to be impossible. They defended well, as a team, together. Not Dwight Howard changing shots. Not getting a couple of missed shots that lead to a big run. Just good, solid, team defense, with rotations at the proper time and to the proper place. It was a sight to behold. It was also short-lived.
By the end of the first quarter, the Lakers had 6 turnovers and the Clippers were in the midst of hitting 10 straight shots, including a few threes, and the game was all but over. In the 2nd half, the 7 man rotation the Lakers have been working with of late ensured that there was little hope of any kind of grand comeback, and the Clippers kept the Lakers at arm's length the rest of the way.
- Pau Gasol - The Spaniard wasn't hugely influential, but he did nearly notch a triple double, with 12 points, 13 boards and 8 assists. As the Lakers turn to increasingly desperate measures to find a back door into the postseason, probably the most welcome of these measures has been the return of the Kobe Bryant-Pau Gasol pick and roll. Pau is still a liability as a defensive power forward, and he can still frustrate with his tentativeness, but more and more, he's showing that he still has an elite offensive game.
- Kobe Bryant - This wasn't Kobe's finest hour by any stretch of the imagination, but he found ways to have enough positive impact on the team overall, and let's be honest, there wasn't a whole lot of competition for today's Beast category. Kobe shot poorly from the field, but he got to the free throw line 14 times (hitting 12) to give him a semi-acceptable efficiency of 25 points on 26 shooting possessions. And the 10 assists and 7 rebounds add in give Kobe's body of work a nice well-rounded feel to it.
- Dwight Howard - 25 points is a solid total, and any evening in which Dwight shoots 70%+ from the free throw line is one in which he will probably find himself in this category. Dwight also contributed 4 blocks to the defensive party. Of course, he had some trouble with the rebounds, which leads us to ...
- Dwight Howard - Lots of folks had a mixed bag for the Lakers yesterday, but Dwight's deserves highlighting because his negative qualities don't jump out as much as the others do, and they were also more important to the overall product the Lakers were able to provide. Dwight pulled down just four rebounds yesterday, and he was a major part of the reason why the Clippers dominated the Lakers on the boards. With 16 offensive rebounds on the evening, and a 50-36 margin in total boards, the Clippers out-worked the Lakers all over, but Dwight's inability to even jump to secure many of those 2nd chances really, really hurt the team tonight. He scored a bunch of points, and managed to block a bunch of shots, but make no mistake: This was one of Dwight's worst games from a mobility and athleticism standpoint in weeks.
- Everyone else - Nobody else on the team played poorly enough to be highlighted, but everybody else on the team played poorly enough to be considered poor. Some folks were just all around mediocre (like Jodie Meeks scoring 6 points in 32 minutes) and some had highlights and lowlights, like Earl Clark hitting two threes in the 1st quarter, and then inexplicably playing pressure defense on Jamal Crawford, who gives up at least 5 inches to Earl. Or Antawn Jamison, who shot 50% from the field overall, but who committed the rather egregious crime of being posterized on a dunk without even actually seeing it, because his back was to the ball.
- Mike D'Antoni - There is a legitimate debate as to whether you can blame the coach for the position his team is in regarding the minutes being played right now. The Lakers are in desperate need of every win they can get, and often can not afford to hope that they can survive minutes from a back end of the bench that is just woefully bad. That said, it is becoming increasingly clear that they also can not afford to hope that the older players can survive short rotations when the games come hot and heavy. Coach didn't create this roster, and he cause all the injuries that have left the Lakers in this dire position. But, when you know ahead of time that the Lakers are almost certain to lose certain games because they just don't have the energy to compete, it might be time to re-evaluate the strategy of riding his known quantities until they drop.