Was this the Lakers’ playoffs?
Or what if the Clippers drilled the Lakes—again–this time by 109-95—to record their first sweep over you… and they barely noticed?
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“For the first time ever you’ve been swept by the Clippers,” someone said to Kobe Bryant. “How frustrating is that?”
Apparently not very much.
Bryant paused, grinned, said wearily, “Man, we we got a bigger challenge to worry about than beating the Clippers one game.”
And those were the good, old days, so to speak, around 4 p.m. Sunday with the Lakers still No. 8 in the West.
About three hours later, the Jazz upset the Warriors in Oakland and the Lakers’ challenge was even bigger, going from a half-game ahead of Utah to a half-game behind… which is effectively 1.5 games with the Jazz having won the season series.
You know how bad things have been in Lakerdom when, at least, it looked like they would make the playoffs—Kobe even “guaranteed” them–even if they would have to play San Antonio or Oklahoma City in the first round?
Ah, if the Lakers could only go back to those days!
Sunday may have been as good as it will get for the Lakers, coming into one of those rare games in the season with a playoff atmosphere.
The Lakers had to win. It was almost as important to the Clippers, who’d been rolling and tumbling so long it wasn’t clear who was better.
The Clipper PR guy said he heard courtside seats were being scalped for $8,000.
I couldn’t find one that high but a single loge seat in the first ring of luxury boxes was listed at $3,586 online.
Happily, it went unbought. It could have gone to a Laker fan so he could see his team get turned every way but loose, up close and personal.
In the really, really bad news for the Lakers, if they do happen to pull this off and make the playoffs, it figures to look like Sunday’s game.
As Bryant noted, the Lakers had more to worry about than winning one game from the Clippers.
OK, how about winning one game from the Clippers all season?
OK, how about just being competitive with them? And I’m not talking about keeping it close for the first quarter and recording a few highlight blocks.
Actually, with the Clippers’ speed and depth, they could be a worse matchup than the Spurs or Thunder.
If you’re a Laker fan, you had better hope so, at least. You’d hate to think there are any worse matchups waiting for you than a team that beat you by 14 a game, scoring 105-107-125-109.
Try this one: In 32 minutes of the four fourth quarters, the Lakes were within five points of the Clips for 2:08.
But let’s look at the positive: they’re done with the Clips this season!
(I’m being optimistic—but they could meet again, if the Clippers finish No. 4-5 and advance, and the Lakers grab No. 8 and knock off the No. 1 seed.)
By then, of course, the Lakers would be so ecstatic, they wouldn’t worry about the season series. Of course, anyone who believes this scenario may be able to get 10,000-1 in Las Vegas.
In one more thing the Lakers can give thanks for, they never had a season like this.
Maybe no one ever has.
When was any team so good on paper—remember August when they got Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to go with Kobe in what everyone said was a can’t-miss proposition—and so bad on the floor?
Of 35 ESPN experts, 25 picked the Lakers to win the West, nine picked the Thunder and one picked the Spurs.
Opening night was merely an embarrassment, when the Lakes were upset at home by Dallas.
Calamity hit the next night when Nash was hurt.
Three games later, Mike Brown was fired.
There was a heady 4-1 streak under Bernie Bickerstaff until Mike D’Antoni, who had just undergone hip surgery, took over on the sideline.
They lost 20 of their first 32 under D’Antoni, amid reports Dwight didn’t dig Kobe and vice versa, as Dwight flipped out on other teammates, even the gentelmanly Nash.
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They pulled it together on a 19-9 run, amid reports of a thaw between Bryant and Howard, carrying them to No. 8 at 36-34, two games ahead of the reeling Jazz, focused on overhauling No. 7 Houston and No. 6 Golden State.
That was March 24. Fifteen days ago.
Their progress was best captured in a Los Angeles Times photo after Friday’s victory over Memphis that showed Bryant cupping Dwight Howard’s head in an affectionate gesture, one more sign they’ve gone from no relationship, to a tentative one, to a real one.
On the other hand, this is the Laker season in which stuff goes wrong as fast or faster than it goes right.
Pau Gasol came back, Metta World Peace was lost for the duration, Nash for a week, the defense went to hell and the Lakers followed.
For Bryant, doing the what-me-worry routine he learned from Phil Jackson, Sunday was just one more time he put it all out there, playing 48 minutes after having just gone 48-47-46, for nothing.
Big surprise, he flamed out. Having averaged 22-8-11 over three games, he got 25-7-10 the hard way Sunday, going 6-19 from the floor.
“Well,” Bryant said, “I think we’ll be playoff-ready. I don’t think we’ll have to ratchet up the intensity. We’ll already be there.”
He said it with a straight face. Hey, those were the good times, when they were No. 8 in the West!
Kobe also said, “It is what it is. You play your heart out and execute. It is what it is.”
That it is, and every day they take another bite.
In case you missed it, be sure to check out Dwight’s hustle in our Play of the Week!
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