Holding Court - NBA gets bizarre as fortunes reverse
MANILA, Philippines - March 6, 2014 would be remembered by NBA trivia junkies as a bizarre day in league history. It was, after all, the day when the San Antonio Spurs handed last year’s finals tormentors, the Miami Heat, their scalps with a 111-87 victory, Phoenix, the year’s surprise team, upset 2012 finalist Oklahoma City 128-122 after coming back from a 16-point deficit, and the Los Angeles Clippers signaled what could be an inexorably new era in LA with a merciless, record-setting 142-94 crushing of their long-time crosstown superiors, the LA Lakers.
Nothing, of course, could be as bizarre as this annihilation of the team wearing the purple-and-gold. It was a defeat of epic proportions that the 18,488 who were watching at Staples Center and on national television (yes, talk about a nationwide humiliation) probably swore they must be looking at an expansion team, not the progeny of a 16-time NBA champion – whatever edition it was – who, along with the Boston Celtics, has been the gold standard in all of basketball.
The 48-point loss was simply the Lakers’ worst in franchise history, breaking the 46-point loss the team suffered in Portland on January 9, 1995. It also set records for the Clippers in many categories: largest win ever dating back to their days as the Buffalo Braves, replacing a 45-point drubbing of Philadelphia last February 9; largest Clippers win over the Lakers, breaking a 36-point blowout they scored last January 10; most points the Clippers scored over the Lakers, resetting the 138 they posted on November 27, 1981; most points the Clips scored on the road, replacing what they scored in a 140-135 overtime victory in New York on March 25, 2009; and most points the Clips scored since a 152-120 win on March 13, 1998 over Toronto.
The Lakers were so bad that they trailed 73-40 at the half, getting outscored by 31, 44-13 in the second quarter after hitting just five of 20 shots. They were just in the game in the first quarter, when the Clips led 29-27 after allowing the Lakers an early 20-13 lead, and only because the Clippers committed 10 turnovers. From there, coach Doc Rivers’ charges outscored the Lakers 129-74 and took a 50-point lead while the starters rested towards the end of the game. The extent of the destruction was such that the Lakers were outscored by 47, 80-33 in the middle quarters, and trailed by at least 40 points in the last 19 minutes, 53 seconds of the contest.
“They smelled blood in the water and they killed us,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said after the game.
“It was just a terrible game on our part – turnovers, not getting back defensively and not moving the ball enough,” Pau Gasol said. “We did not create plays for each other, and that is how it started to fall apart.”
Movie and TV actor Rob Lowe, a Lakers fan for 35 of his 49 years, offered a more cryptic explanation: “For now, this franchise is lost without (the late Laker patriarch) Dr. (Jerry) Buss.”
The game saw eight Clippers scored in double figures, led by Darren Collison with 24 points on 9-for-16 shooting, while four posted double doubles. Blake Griffin had 20 points and 11 rebounds on top of seven assists in 26 minutes, Matt Barnes had 17 points and 12 rebounds besides five assists and three steals in 30 minutes, DeAndre Jordan had 14 points and 12 boards plus three assists in 22 minutes, while Chris Paul had 13 points and 11 feeds while chipping in four rebounds and four steals in 26 minutes. Matt Barnes, one of 31 players to have worn both Clippers and Lakers jerseys since they started their intercity rivalry in 1984-85, had 17 points, Reggie Bullock had 11, and new acquisitions Glen Davis and Danny Granger had 10 each.
All 11 players Rivers fielded in scored as the Clips shot .553 from the floor, 12-for-16 from three-point range, and outrebounded the Lakers 64-33 on the way to their sixth straight victory and sixth win in seven head-to-head meetings with the Lakers.
Paul is averaging 20.5 points and 11.9 assists per game in 28 career games against the Lakers. The All-Star guard and Isiah Thomas are the only players in NBA history with a minimum of five games played to post career averages of at least 20 points and 10 assists against the Lakers.
It’s easy to see why the Lakers are in their current predicament, besides the fact that they’ve missed Kobe Bryant for all but six games and Steve Nash for all but 10 contests this season and that many on the Lakers’ roster are young and don’t have enough experience to deal with veteran teams. The Lakers, under D’Antoni, are simply not playing the kind of defense necessary to keep in step with the rest of the league. In the Lakers’ last three games alone – which also include a 132-125 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans and a 134-126 loss in Denver in the second of back-to-back games right after that blowout loss to the Clippers – they allowed 408 points for an average of 136 on shooting clips of 60, 55 and 55 percent, giving up 54, 62 and 64 points inside as they became the first team in franchise history to allow at least 400 in a three-game stretch and also the first team to give up 130 points in three straight contests since Golden State in 2008. The Lakers are giving up 118 points per game since the All-Star break, the highest in the NBA.
In that game against the Nuggets, Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried and Wilson Chandler, not exactly your typical big bodies to begin with, combined for 50 points on 21-of-23 shooting in the first half. Lawson had 20 points on 8-for-10 shooting and finished with 30 and 17 assists, Faried was 7-for-7 for 15 points and ended up with 32 and 13 rebounds, while Chandler was 6-for-6 for 15 points and finished with 19.
“You can’t win that way,” D’Antoni said after the loss, the Lakers’ 42nd that would ensure they would have their first losing record since the 2004-05 season, when newly-hired coach Rudy Tomjanovich resigned midway through a 34-48 campaign. “We are trying everything we can do and the players are trying. Just a lot of it is that we were outrun, out-strengthened, outmuscled and out-fought a little bit. I don’t know if the air is going out or we’re tired or what the problem is.”
But Dave McMenamin, who covers the Lakers for ESPN, faults D’Antoni’s system for his team’s struggles. “D’Antoni has repeatedly said the team’s best chance to win is by playing with a smaller lineup, spacing the floor and getting up and down the court, but when you don’t have a ton of talent on your team, most opponents will do more with that increased amount of possessions and embarrass you with video-game numbers in the process,” McMenamin says.
“Playing at a more balanced pace masks the talent gap. Just take a look at the Chicago Bulls. While they lost two of their best players this season in Derrick Rose to an injury and Luol Deng to a cost-cutting trade, they’ve continued to stay afloat thanks to their defense and grind-it-out style. In their past four wins, they’ve allowed a total of 358 points.”
That’s 50 less points than the Lakers allowed in their last three losses, and certainly validates Gasol’s disagreement with D’Antoni’s system, which, as McMenamin explains, has adversely impacted the team on the defensive side of the ball. Gasol has been at odds with D’Antoni because of his run-and-gun offense, which the Spaniard says lacks discipline and has not been working as his coach wants. The tiff has probably given the Lakers braintrust the idea that both Gasol and D’Antoni have become expendable for them to allow Gasol to join his brother Marc in Memphis, from whom the Lakers obtained him in 2007, when he becomes a free agent this offseason, and to give D’Antoni himself his walking papers.
The Lakers are dead-last in the Western Conference with a 21-42 record, and relief doesn’t seem forthcoming. Next up in their schedule are two home-and-away games against each of the last two Western finalists, Oklahoma City and San Antonio.
Somewhere in the recesses of the Staples Center or wherever his spirit may be residing, Buss (that’s Jerry, not Jim), architect of the Lakers’ last 10 titles, must be brooding, wondering what has happened to his beloved team.
SHORTSHOTS: Former Chicago and Lakers coach Phil Jackson is reportedly considering a front-office job with the New York Knicks. Jackson played 11 of his 13 NBA years with the Knicks. He last coached the Lakers in 2011… The Cleveland Cavaliers have retied former center Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ No. 11, making him the seventh Cav to have his number retired after Austin Carr (34), Nate Thurmond (42), Bobby “Bingo” Smith (7), Larry Nance (22), Brad Daugherty (43) and Mark Price (25). A two-time All-Star, the 7-foot-3 Ilgauskas, a Lithuanian, is the Cavs’ career leader in rebounds, games played and shot blocks. Among those present at his retirement ceremony was former Cavs teammate LeBron James… Kyle Korver’s record streak of consecutive games with at least one three-point shot made ended at 127 in a 102-78 blowout loss by Atlanta in Portland. Korver had broken Dana Barros’ previous record of 89 last December 6 when he made a three-pointer for the 90th straight game against Cleveland. – Rappler.com
Bert A. Ramirez has been a freelance sportswriter/columnist since the '80s, writing mostly about the NBA and once serving as consultant and editor for Tower Sports Magazine, the longest-running locally published NBA magazine, from 1999 to 2008. He has also written columns and articles for such publications as Malaya, Sports Digest, Winners Sports Weekly, Pro Guide, Sports Weekly, Sports Flash, Sports World, Basketball Weekly and the FIBA's International Basketball, and currently writes a fortnightly column for QC Life and a weekly blog for BostonSports Desk. A former corporate manager, Bert has breathed, drunk and slept sports most of his life.