Bruised, bloody and broken, the Los Angeles Lakers ride into Sacramento tonight trailing the Utah Jazz for the 8th spot in the standings. Steve Nash (hip) and Kobe Bryantt (foot) were both hurt in Thursday night's pitiful loss in Milwaukee to the Bucks, with the Mamba listed as probable and Nash as questionable.
There's the three narratives retreaded over every time the Show takes the court: will the superior talent of the Lakers be able to hold a lead against xxx team? Will LA be able to make it out of xxx city unscathed and without further injury? Can the Lakers cling to a playoff spot? Tonight, same story. Identical to Thursday in Milwaukee, Wednesday in Minnesota and on and on.
But for tonight, mercifully, there may be another storyline to look at: this could very well be the last regular season game ever played in Sacramento. The Kings face a late April vote on whether or not to approve the sale of the team to Chris Hansen and a group of Seattle-based investors that will move the organization to the Emerald City starting next season. The bid is largely expected to pass snuff of the other 29 owners, though former Phoenix Suns point guard and mayor of Sacramento Kevin Johnson is still fighting to find a new group that pledges to keep the Kings in Sacramento.
California's capitol has been the battleground for the most epic duels of the Shaquille-Kobe era Lakers, including an unforgettable seven game war in the 2002 Western Conference Finals. The Lakers prevailed in a dubious, but hard fought Game 7 on their way to their third title in as many years, the very same contest that unofficially shut the title window of those Kings. The very next year, star forward Chris Webber tore up his knee and was never the same player again, while All-Stars Mike Bibby, Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic were sent out of town as the team attempted to stay relevant.
Never one to forget history even as the personnel is completely turned over, the Kings and their fans always ratchet up the intensity level when the Lake Show comes to town. The Lakers suffered an embarrassing early season loss in Sactown, a troubling sign of things to come, unbeknownst to a still delirious Lakers fan base. In that November 21st 113-97 win, the Lakers turned over the ball a staggering 20 times, while guards Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton combined for 41 points on 15-24 shooting. Laughably, nearly five months later, nothing has changed with these Lakers. Losers of 4 of their last 5, LA was torched by guards Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings on Thursday, while committing 18 turnovers in a frighteningly similar effort to their last game in Sacramento. The Kings are finishing up a very solid 7-7 month, including a 40 point blowout of the Chicago Bulls and a 15 win against the Clippers.
The Lakers--like every game in front of them--need this victory badly. With Utah's comeback win over the Portland Trailblazers last night, LA sits tied with the Jazz at 37-36, but in 9th place because of the season series tiebreaker. It's already going to be an arduous task with their star backcourt playing, let alone if the two former MVPs can't suit up.
Perhaps a bit of nostalgia will help. No better way than to bid a fond adieu to the Cowbell Palace than a resounding victory.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino