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Lakers 82, Spurs 97: Trade Everyone


Right about now, Phil Jackson might be wishing he'd retired last summer when he had the chance. His Lakers have fallen completely apart, a fact that became apparent on Christmas Day and blindingly obvious tonight in an 82 to 97 walloping at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs. The purp and yellow have not only lost three straight games but have failed to be competitive in any of them. Since 2008 the Lakers have been the bully of the NBA schoolyard. Now that bully has been knocked to the ground, and everyone's getting their punches in while they can. If Phil can somehow pull this situation back together and win another title - hey, a girl can dream - he'll have earned every last dime of his prodigious salary.

One can no longer argue with a straight face that the Lakers are the best team in the Western Conference. At the moment they're not anywhere close to the Spurs, who tonight played the kind of smart, precise basketball that used to be the Lake Show's calling card. San Antonio forced Kobe Bryant into a rancid performance and took away everything else the Lakers wanted to do. Their victory puts them six full games up on L.A., meaning home-court advantage in the playoffs is something we can probably just forget about. Those who believe the Lakers don't need HCA to win a title are going to see their theory put to the test.

All sorts of things are going wrong for the Lakers right now, but what stands out the most is the sudden and thorough collapse of their offense. The past three games they've struggled to put up more than 80 points. Tonight they scored a disgusting 0.89 points per possession, their worst mark of the season. And their defense in this one wasn't much prettier. As was the case in the Miami game, only the Spurs' cold shooting on a load of wide-open threes kept this from being a 25- or 30-point bloodbath.

For a few minutes this evening, the Lakers looked like their old selves. Kobe drained jumpers on four of their first five possessions, and when Derek Fisher knocked down a 20-footer with 8:29 left in the first, the Lakers led 12 to 5. But we knew the lead wouldn't last. We literally knew it: in the game thread, we solicited guesses of how long it would be before the Spurs tied it up. The most pessimistic bid came from SoCalGal, who said the lead would be erased by the time there were a few minutes left in the first quarter. Even that proved unduly cheery: a Richard Jefferson fast-break dunk put the Spurs ahead with 5:03 left. The Lakers then sank into a sickening offensive drought, scoring only two points in their last 12 possessions of the quarter, at the end of which San Antonio led by nine.

In the second, the Lakers' defense got them back into it. They moved their feet well and forced the hosts into a cold shooting stretch. Tony Parker, who tore up Derek Fisher and Steve Blake for 10 first-quarter points, cooled off. Pau Gasol woke up long enough to score seven points in the period, and Shannon Brown, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest connected on threes to give the Lakers a two-point lead heading into the break. Kobe, however, had totally lost the mark. After hitting four of his first five shots, he missed his next nine - a streak that would hit 13 in the second half - and to make matters worse, committed four first-half turnovers.

It all unraveled in the third. Kobe kept shooting and missing. And then shooting some more, and missing some more. DeJuan Blair started owning Lamar Odom on the glass. Parker got rolling again. Kobe and Fish lost their composure in the face of some questionable no-calls. Pau faded back into irrelevance. It became a struggle to just to keep the game close.

An epidemic of horrible decision-making at the offensive end broke out. Andrew Bynum and Matt Barnes, the only two Lakers to play effectively, hit some late shots to keep the Lakers within sight of the Spurs, but the only open issue was how bad the final score would look. A brutal fourth quarter gave us the answer: 15 points bad.

This was just a depressing performance from nearly everyone on the Lakers' sideline. Kobe (8 for 27, five turnovers, one assist) shot the team into oblivion. There were way too many possessions when he tried to one-up Manu Ginobili instead of finding an open teammate. It was the worst performance of the season from a guy who's playing himself out of the MVP race. If the Lakers are going to reassert themselves in the title chase, he's got to have a smarter approach.

Nobody else did much to help the cause. Pau had a very good first half but disappeared in the second. Lamar got tooled on all night by the shorter, less talented Blair. Aside from forcing a couple turnovers early in the first quarter, Fish was godawful. I honestly think that at this point Fish would be in danger of losing big minutes to Blake, except that Blake is mired in a shooting slump of his own. And speaking of shooting slumps: Shannon Brown, 1 for 11.

I would say the Lakers have bottomed out, but by now we should know better. Things could get even worse as soon as tomorrow night, when the Lakers visit New Orleans. As C.A. wrote this afternoon, our guys can either get busy living or get busy dying. So far, it seems, they're choosing the latter.











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