Andrew Bynum is injured again. The crux and focal point of everything that has been good about the Los Angeles Lakers since the All-Star Break crumpled to the floor in the 2nd quarter of last night's game against the San Antonio Spurs. He sat there on the floor for a long time, arms wrapped around his knees, looking like you might if you just found out your grandmother died. If Bynum's injury was the only bad thing to affect the Lakers in last night's contest, it would still have gone down as the worst night of the season. But we're not that lucky.
The team's starting center, the guy who makes the defense tick, will have an MRI to determine just how much damage was done when he stepped on DeJuan Blair's foot while running full speed. The team's backup small forward, the man responsible for keeping Luke Walton as far away from the court as humanly possible, has a bum knee as well. The team's backup point guard has a fucking plague. Today, Kobe Bryant gets to suffer the repercussions of being caught mouthing words that would have him banned on this very site. The Lakers struggled to play last night with enough intensity to win a game that the Spurs willingly handed over on a silver platter. They were victorious in title only. One can only guess the state the Lakers are in today. Some broken, all emotionally battered, all the team has left to do before preparing for the long journey that is the playoffs is walk into a hornet's nest and steal the last bit of honey the hornets will ever have. If this is what winning is like, I would kindly request we go back to losing.
In Dante's Inferno, we learn that there are nine circles of Hell, each for a different kind of sinner. Aside from the specifically religious sins (limbo and heresy), the Lakers have been guilty of the basketball equivalent of all these acts. Lust and Greed in the way certain members of the team yearn for more shot attempts and don't share the ball as much as they should. Gluttony (loosely interpreted here to be laziness) in the way they have apparently filled up on winning so much over the years that they just don't care to try very hard now. Anger (which is specifically the domain of Kobe Bryant). Violence, in the recent suspendable acts of Andrew Bynum and Matt Barnes. But the deepest circles of hell are reserved for the worst of all sins, because they are the only sins which are committed deliberately and willfully. Those sins are fraud and treachery, and if the Lakers have been guilty of anything this season, fraud and treachery has to be at the top of the list. Fraud, because they are either a champion who plays like a chump some of the time, or vice versa. Treachery, because they routinely treat their paying customers like fools by not showing up, effectively stealing their money. The injuries, the illness, getting caught saying stupid ignorant shit, all of it symbolically represents punishment for the Lakers' transgressions. Now, they have one remaining trial with which to drag themselves out of the fire.
Obviously, this is all dramatically over the top. It's an allegory, not meant to be taken seriously, but the symbology works. If the Lakers are punished, in the form of a quicker than expected playoff exit because of Drew's injury, who's to say they wouldn't have avoided their fate by playing with effort and obtaining better playoff position. By failing to take the regular season seriously, the Lakers left themselves a very slim margin of error in the second season, and any serious amount of missed time for Bynum could very well represent that entire margin. I'm not saying the Lakers will lose if they don't have their center, I'm saying that if they do lose, Drew's injury will be a poor excuse, because the team could have, and should have, put themselves in a far better position to deal with such a setback.
Taking a step back, we'd be remised if we didn't mention that the fans of tonight's opponent are going through far worse than anything we can even imagine, and it's through no fault of their own or their team's (owners excluded). Sacramento Kings fans are the ones really in basketball Hell, and it is not symbolic in any way. If the Lakers are "punished" for their actions this season, we'll be pissed off for six months (or more) until the next season starts. The punishment of Sacramento's fans will last forever. I know there is no love lost between our fanbases, that the hatred in this relationship is a one way street, replaced in the other direction by the smug arrogance that is our fanbase's calling card, but I ask you to have some respect for what will no doubt be a surreal and emotional experience for the guys on the other side of this particular battle.
As for the battle itself, there really are no words to prepare for this. How things will play out is anybody's guess. The only thing we can know for certain is that the arena will be an environment the likes of which I don't think any of us have ever seen. The fans will take all their anger and all their sadness and project it onto our Lakers. That the Lakers are already their most hated rival only makes the projection easier. The only question is how a young Kings squad will handle all that emotion, all that energy. Will they harness it, playing with pride and heart that the Lakers couldn't hope to match even if they weren't a team that often plays without either quality? Or will the Kings let the emotion consume them, like the Cavaliers did on LeBron James' first return to Cleveland? I did what little research I could into the precedent. Exactly three years ago to the day, the Seattle Supersonics played their final game before moving to Oklahoma City. Entering the contest a woeful 18-62, the Sonics beat a full strength Dallas Mavericks team that was clawing for playoff position, 99-95.
As for the Lakers, tonight's contest suddenly seems so much more vital to the cause. With the uncertainty of Bynum's injury (and perhaps more importantly, the uncertainty of how effective he will be even if he can return soon), the Lakers move quickly from being a team that cares little about things like home court advantage to a team that might just need all the help in can get. They also enter the contest terribly short-handed. If Matt Barnes misses tonight's contest like he missed yesterday's, the Lakers will be down to seven rotation players, and two of them will be Luke Walton and Shannon Brown. The Lakers undoubtedly enter tonight's contest a wounded animal. The Kings enter a dying beast. I'm a little afraid of what will happen when the two desperate creatures meet.
|RECORD||56-25 (4)||24-57 (25)|
|NET POINTS PER GAME||6.1 (3)||-5.3 (25)|
|PACE||90.7 (21)||95.2 (4)|
|OFFENSIVE RATING||111.0 (6)||103.5 (25)|
|Turnover Rate (Off.)||0.124 (3)||0.145 (28)|
|FTA/FGA (Off.)||0.228 (12)||0.210 (27)|
|Free-Throw %||77.7 (7)||73.6 (28)|
|3PT FGA/FGA (Off.)||0.221 (16)||0.182 (26)|
|3PT% (Off.)||35.2 (18)||33.6 (26)|
|Effective FG% (Off.)||50.1 (12)||48.0 (26)|
|True Shooting% (Off.)||54.5 (11)||51.9 (26)|
|Off Rebounding Rate||0.294 (3)||0.299 (1)|
|DEFENSIVE RATING||104.3 (6)||109.0 (19)|
|Turnover Rate (Def.)||0.128 (20)||0.135 (12)|
|FTA/FGA (Def.)||0.182 (1)||0.233 (18)|
|3PT FGA/FGA (Def.)||0.247 (27)||0.194 (2)|
|3PT% (Def.)||33.5 (3)||35.5 (12)|
|Effective FG% (Def.)||47.7 (5)||51.3 (25)|
|True Shooting% (Def.)||51.4 (2)||55.4 (23)|
|Def Rebounding Rate||0.723 (22)||0.742 (14)|
Per Kevin Ding's blog post, Andrew Bynum will undergo his MRI at 11 AM PST. As soon as we have the results, we'll get the news to you.