Prior to tonight, the Los Angeles Lakers had the best home record in all of basketball. The Utah Jazz had one of the worst road records in all of basketball. The Lakers were fully healthy, and the Jazz were missing their 2nd best player, Al Jefferson. The Lakers had a ton of momentum coming into tonight's contest, and the Jazz are fighting for their playoff lives. So of course, the Lakers lost tonight's contest. The Lakers seem to have a knack for trolling their own fan base. If things start going too well, they lose a double digit lead to the Washington Wizards. When things start to look truly ugly, they reel off five straight victories. Never too much hope, never too much despair.
And if the Lakers are a team of trolls, there can be no doubt who the most valuable troll is. Tonight, Kobe Bryant had one of the worst games of his professional career. He missed 17 of his total 20 shots. He turned the ball over seven times. He, along with Pau Gasol, tied for the worst +/- on the court. He also played terrible defense, getting outplayed down the stretch by a rookie from Colorado that I've literally never heard of before tonight (Kudos, Alec Burks. Kudos) Kobe missed good shots. He missed bad shots. And the fourth quarter provided plenty of both as Kobe tried to make the plays down the stretch that he always tries to make. And yet, when Kobe had a chance to tie the game with an off balance three pointer as time expired, I felt sure he would make it. Not because he's the best clutch player in the league, or one of the best of all time. No, I felt sure the shot would go in because it would be so typical of Kobe to end a terrible game with a game winner, just like it would be like him to end a wonderful game by missing one. Kobe Bryant's sole purpose in life often seems to be to contradict whatever current storyline gets attached to his name. He is the ultimate troll. But tonight, he was unable to re-write the negative storylines which are rightfully his.
Let's be clear though, there isn't a whole lot of praise to be doled out tonight. Andrew Bynum was amazing, with 33 points an 14 shots to go along with his 11 boards, but he got killed on the other end by Ines Kanter (Career high 17 points on seven shots). Pau Gasol also had a strong offensive game (18 and 10), but he too was guilty of poor defending. Both players added to Kobe's turnover fest with 5 each, part of the team total of 24 that contributed every bit as much to the defeat as Kobe did. The entire starting lineup was a net negative.
The bench was, once again, solid. Ramon Sessions struggled from the field, but he tied for the team lead with six assists and got to the free throw line 10 times because he was the fastest player on the court. Matt Barnes continues to live on cloud nine with a running partner to feed him, he scored 12 points and dished out six assists of his own. And the rest of the bench got to play at the same time that those two dudes were doing their thing, and therefore look better by comparison.
But the Lakers still lost, and that is Kobe Bryant's fault. To which I say, yeah and? Look, I've seen bad Kobe games before, and this was one of his worst performances, but it wasn't one of his worst efforts. The guy just had the kind of bad game he almost never has. He wasn't particularly selfish ... 20 shots is actually on the low end for him. He wasn't particularly lazy on offense, in fact he got to the free throw line 10 times (the only thing keeping his points to shots ratio from something truly abysmal. He had four assists, which is right at his season average. The only difference between Kobe's play tonight, and Kobe's play most nights is that the shots, both good and bad, all missed. You can kill him if you want for continuing to take them, especially with an insanely effective Andrew Bynum throwing down shot after shot, but that's just not Kobe's MO. When Kobe plays selfishly, like the Denver game where he went 6-28 with zero assists, kill him. When he plays like this, pat him on the back and say "tough night."
That's what this was, a tough night. The Lakers were sloppy, and they clearly didn't take a weakened Jazz team seriously, and an unnecessary loss was the consequence, but the bottom line is that they had an off night. It happens to all teams at one time or another, and it happens to the Lakers whenever we start to feel to good about ourselves. So take a step back and enjoy the positive (when was the last time the starters sucked so bad and the Lakers almost won), and just hope that tonight's result was bad enough by itself to prevent the karma from continuing to turn on their Texas two-step.