Mike Bresnahan: One more chance against Clippers
Here we are again. Another must-win game for the Lakers.
This time it's against the Clippers, and it truly might symbolize the end of the Lakers' season if they lose Monday night.
An already bad situation became much worse when the Lakers stumbled in Phoenix on Saturday, leaving Kyle Kuzma scratching his head after a nine-point setback to the only NBA team eliminated from playoff contention.
“Obviously there's something wrong with this team,” Kuzma said, unable to give any solutions. “Not really sure right now.”
The confidence wouldn't seem so low if the Lakers weren't 3-7 in their last 10 games, all with LeBron James in the lineup. The wins were by one, five and six points. The losses were by an average of 15 points.
Saturday in Phoenix was supposed to be an easy 'W' if ever there was one. All the Suns care about is ping-pong balls dropping out of a chute on May 14.
Stunningly, it was the Lakers who trailed by 19 early in the fourth quarter. A late comeback fizzled. The Lakers' locker room was quieter than an antiquities museum.
“We needed this game for obvious reasons,” James said. “It's unfortunate with the opportunity that we've had. And we haven't been able to seize the opportunity.”
Blame could be sprinkled in numerous corners.
James missed two late free throws and had a bizarre turnover earlier when his inbounds pass under the basket ricocheted off the back of the backboard and out of bounds behind him. The latter, he acknowledged, was “silly on my part” before downgrading it to “stupidity on my part.”
Rajon Rondo continued a recent slump by missing nine of 10 shots. Kyle Kuzma took only nine shots, his fewest since Jan. 31.
The Lakers defense, asunder for months, surrendered 118 points to the league's worst offense.
Meanwhile, the Clippers have been all fire and venom since allegedly giving up on the season by trading their best player, Tobias Harris, before last month's deadline.
Even Ivica Zubac seemed surprised by the Clippers' passion and fight since joining them on a deadline-day deal with the Lakers.
The Clippers have dutifully taken care of winnable games. In the last three weeks, they're 5-0 against teams with worse records than them. The Lakers are 1-4 in the same span against the same ilk.
“It's great,” Zubac told reporters Sunday after the Clippers hammered New York, 128-107. “When I was with the Lakers, we didn't have nights like this. Every game was a close game for us. But now with the Clippers, this team is really locked in.”
It's impossible to label the Lakers as “locked in” at this point. It's par for their mystifying season.
They've defeated all nine teams ahead of them in the West. But they've lost to four of the five below them in the Western Conference, not to mention New York, Cleveland, Atlanta and Washington from the East.
As such, the Lakers are 4.5 games behind San Antonio and five behind the Clippers for the West's final two playoff spots. They have 19 games left.
Monday marks the last stand for a team that was the fourth choice by Westgate sports book to win the championship before the season began.
It won't be a mathematical elimination if the Lakers lose to the Clippers. Just a practical one.