Ever since the Lakers received their Championship rings before the season opener, the only thing that seemed to be on everyone’s minds was getting another one. There were high expectations for this defending championship team, as should have been. Lofty goals of record-breaking wins, establishing dominance through an uber-talented roster and keeping that Larry O’Brien trophy in Los Angeles were posed, and no one — not the fans, media, or even their opponents expected anything less.
A lot can happen, good and bad, to a team in an 82-game season, however, and the defending champions were no exception.
Tonight’s game against the Clippers could have ended the regular season on a much higher note. Instead, it was an evening filled with every obstacle (most self-inflicted), that has plagued the Lakers all season — stagnant ball movement and refusal to run offensive sets (Lakers “out-assisted” by the Clippers 31-20), inconsistent outside shooting (4-11 from downtown), dulled free throw capabilities (19-28), turnovers (14), and injury (Sasha Vujacic’s sprained ankle now added to the long list of battle wounds the team has or is facing).
It is quite a grocery list of negativity, and the Lakers have three days to correct all their wrongs.
There were, however, some positives from this evening’s relatively pointless game. Shannon Brown, after having one of his most efficient games against Sacramento last night, put in 39 minutes of burn to produce 18 points on 7-14 shooting, five rebounds and three assists. With Jordan Farmar appearing for only the final 1.3 seconds of the first half due to a strained hamstring that needed no further aggravation, and Sasha nursing a new injury, Shannon and Fish were it for the Lakers backcourt. If Shannon can provide this type of effort in the playoffs, the team is that much better.
Lamar Odom was active offensively tonight, scoring 21 points on 7-12 shooting. In addition to eight rebounds, he also had two assists and a block. He also got into some words with Chris Kaman after he was called for a foul (a foul that appeared to be a moving screen on Kaman’s part). The fact that their playoff fate had already been decided, and that this game meant nothing more to them than the last in the regular season, did not matter to Lamar. He still played with energy and fervor; something the Lakers will need to make a long playoff push.
In addition, Pau Gasol who, in 28 minutes of playing time, managed a double-double, 18 points and a game high 17 rebounds. He has gotten much more efficient in the past month, and after some uncertain games upon his return from injury, he seems to have peaked at the perfect time.
So there ends the regular season for the defending Champion Lakers. Game 1 against the Oklahoma City Thunder is scheduled for Sunday. In the next three days, we can only hope that all who are nursing any sort of injuries (Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, Jordan Farmar, Shannon Brown, Luke Walton, and Sasha Vujacic) are able to find some time to heal their wounds, and as a team, hope they can correct their wrongs, refine their games, and place themselves in ultimate mental tenacity.
If they want to return in next season’s opener with another ring ceremony, they cannot let anything hold them back — not injury, not the negativity and doubt — nothing. After a regular season with so many questions, so here the playoffs come to provide us all the answers.
Pre-game Thoughts: Game number 82 — hopefully the Lakers can end the regular season the same way they began it, with a win over the team from down the tunnel.
Half-time Thoughts: Sasha landed on someone’s foot and fell awkwardly onto the floor. He was helped off the court and into the locker room by Jordan Farmar and trainer, Gary Vitti. Another injury? Really?
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: After Sasha left the game, the team appeared as is they just wanted to get the game over and done with and it showed.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Steve Blake from the L.A. Clippers had a triple double, 23 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists.