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The Lakers Are Inventing Bizarre New Ways to Lose


So much for a quiet, boring end to the regular season. It might be getting about time for the 2010 Lakers to head home, but like a belligerent drunk at last call, they're determined not to go calmly into the night. They're resolved to turn over as many tables and break as much glass as possible on their way out the door. Their antics are likely to embarrass themselves and anyone in the vicinity who happens to be watching. Undergarments might or might not be soiled. Who needs dignity anyway?

This afternoon's game, an incomprehensible 88 to 91 home loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, can be autopsied in two separate pieces. One piece comprises the first 47 minutes of play, in which the Lakers treated us to a run-of-the-mill afternoon of mediocre basketball. Despite leading for much of that stretch, they shot poorly from long distance (nothing new there), got little from their bench (this is a recording) and failed to put away a Portland team playing the second half without an injured Brandon Roy. Nobody reading these words was surprised by any of these developments.

The second piece started with 54 seconds left, when Andre Miller drove around Derek Fisher for a layup to put the Blazers ahead, 86 to 81. At that point, a basketball game ended, and a journey into the occult began. Let's try to make sense of what happened.

0:50 on the clock - Kobe Bryant buries a long three from the top of the key to pull the Lakers within two. To put it gently, Kobe had not shot the ball well prior to this moment. He had missed 15 of his 21 field goal attempts and had generated only one free-throw. This would be his third consecutive game of making less than 35% of his shots. This three, though, was pure, and critical to defibrillating a Laker offense that had theretofore collapsed in the fourth quarter.

0:41 on the clock - Sasha Vujacic forces a turnover by drawing a charge on Miller. The Laker reserve guards (Sasha, Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar) were a catastrophe on offense today, combining for eight points on an insanely bad 26% True Shooting, but they had some fine moments on D, and this was one of them. It was the second offensive foul that Sasha drew in the fourth quarter. As an aside, this happened earlier in the game, which was even more unexpected:

Fun. Now back to the endgame.

0:31 on the clock - Kobe hits a driving layup off a high pick-and-roll play with Pau Gasol. He is fouled by LaMarcus Aldridge and makes the free throw to put the Lakers ahead, 87 to 86. As pick-and-roll collaborations go, Kobe and Pau are eleventy billion times better than Fisher and Lamar Odom.

0:12 on the clock - Aldridge misses a short jumpshot, but Marcus Camby scores on the tip-in, his seventh offensive rebound of the game. Portland killed the Lakers with second-chance points in the first half, and although the Lakers' defensive rebounding improved in the second half, Odom got caught under the basket on this play. He was stranded between helping out on Aldridge and boxing out Camby, but succeeded at neither. Blazers lead, 88 to 87.

0:06.9 on the clock - Martell Webster commits a stupendously ill-considered foul on Kobe. It looked like Webster thought Portland still had a foul to give. They did not. Seemingly, this was a crushing braincramp for the Blazers. Kobe is a career 84% free-throw shooter who is making 81% of his free throws this year. The odds of an 81% free-throw shooter missing two straight is less than 4%. Guess what happened.

Still 0:06.9 on the clock - After the second of Kobe's two misses, Gasol gets the offensive rebound. Pau was 100% studly today. He scored 23 points on 74% True Shooting, snagged 12 rebounds, blocked four shots and dished four assists without committing a turnover. A majestic performance by the big man.

0:04.7 on the clock - Fish, to whom Pau kicked the ball out, is fouled by Miller and heads to the line for two free throws. Fish is an 82% career free-throw shooter who's hitting 86% this year. Of course, he misses the first. He does make the second to tie the game at 88. Yay, Fish!

0:03.1 on the clock - Boooo, Fish! For reasons that cannot be explained by man or God, he reaches in and commits a three-shot foul on Webster, who at the time was being capably guarded by Kobe. A less clutch, less heady, less veteran-leadery play has never been made in any sport. Webster makes all three to put the Blazers up, 88 to 91.

Last possession - After a timeout to advance the ball past halfcourt, Odom throws to Gasol at the top of the key, and Pau misses a desperation three at the buzzer. Don't blame Odom or Gasol for this one. None of the designated shooters who were in the game - Kobe, Fish and Sasha - got themselves open. Lakers lose yet again.

The Lake Show is now 56-24 and a game behind the Orlando Magic. Two regular-season contests remain, in the form of a back-to-back set at Staples against Sacramento and the Clippers. Off the top of my head, I can't remember a top conference seed ever looking this weak, this late in the season.










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