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The Last One: Los Angeles Lakers at San Antonio Spurs Preview

Tonight, the Lakers end the regular season against the Spurs, a familiar Western Conference foe. With both teams locked into their respective positions in the West, there there is nothing at stake but pride

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Showtime: 5:00 PM PST

Lakers fans, it’s the last game of the regular season. When the last game doesn’t mean anything, I’m used to it being because we’re locked into our seed, resting our starters, and looking forward to the playoffs. Today? There are two parts of my inner monologue as I reflect on the end of the 2013-14 season. Part of me is glad that this injury-plagued campaign is over and I can start to look to the future. The other part is still absorbing and processing this season’s ups and downs.

The forward looking me is thinking about the lottery, about free agency, about Kobe’s health, and how to storm towards another championship within the confines of the new CBA. This will be the most eventful offseason in recent memory and will decide the short-term future of this Lakers franchise. With his first lottery pick since Andrew Bynum, Kupchak will be drafting the new face of the Lakers who will carry the team after Kobe leaves. Nearly every contract on the books will expire, leaving the Lakers with cap space and decisions to make – should they resign Gasol? Are there any major free agents worth gambling on now or should they wait until 2015?

On the other hand, I’m still not sure what to make about this Lakers team and the key players on it. Before the season, I thought that this team would have more luck with injuries than last year’s M-A-S-H unit, but those hopes were quickly dashed. I knew it wasn’t a championship contender, but I didn’t see them setting a franchise record for losses either. Still, it hasn’t been nearly as disastrous as the record might suggest – role players have stepped up in amazing and unusual ways, they’ve beaten some Western Conference foes in memorable victories, and the team has never stopped fighting. I even learned to love Swaggy P, something I never would have predicted.

Still, it’s hard to see our season contrasted against the sustained excellence of the Spurs. Through player development, careful cap and roster management, and the top coach in the game today, the Spurs are going to have the best record in the NBA, again. While the Lakers have won more titles since 2000, they have also gambled a lot more and seen huge swings in team performance. The Spurs are always a threat: Popovich treats the regular season as preparation for the playoffs, controlling his stars’ minutes in a way that we all hoped D’Antoni would with Kobe and building up his bench so they are ready to play big minutes when it counts.

At this point, there isn’t much in the air for either team. After winning in Utah, the Lakers aren’t going to improve their lottery position and might as well try to win. The Spurs will be the only 60 win squad in the league this year and hold a four game lead over OKC, leaving nothing left to play for tonight. They are concerned about the playoffs, not the Lakers. The Spurs are healthy and peaking at the right time, with Popovich saying that he will play everyone for 15-20 minutes to make sure they stay in game shape. Regardless of who plays for San Antonio, it is likely that the injury-ravaged Lakers will be outmatched in tonight’s game.

Knowing that the Lake Show will look dramatically different next season, I’m going to try to enjoy watching Swaggy P and Co one last time. This is a collection of cast-offs and failed lottery picks, but they’ve come together as a team and played the right way together. They move the ball well, they try on defense, and they haven’t backed down from anybody. I have come to admire their heart and hustle, refusing to quit despite losing game after game this season. I won’t wish for another season like this, but there been enough moments to sustain me as a fan this year.

Let’s hope for a win tonight and a return to form in 2014-2015.

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