As they remain at the bottom of the Western Conference, the Lakers and Jazz have big-picture fortunes that may produce more clarity this spring.
On May 20, the NBA draft lottery takes place, an event so foreign to the Lakers’ championship fabric that they’ve only been a part of two of them since the system’s inception 27 years ago. Yet, with the Lakers’ 96-79 loss Tuesday to the Utah Jazz at Staples Center marking the team’s sixth consecutive home loss and dropping them into 14th place in the Western Conference,that scenario becomes more and more plausible for the Lakers.
Perhaps that marks the only silver lining for the Lakers, considering the never-ending injuries and defeats. But Lakers center Chris Kaman adamantly stated the team’s struggles represent a byproduct of never-ending injuries than a deliberate strategy to maximize the team’s chances at securing lottery ping pong balls.
“Everybody knows we want to win. It’s not like we’re out here trying to chase picks,” Kaman said. “That’s not what we’re doing at all. I don’t think anybody thinks that way. It’s just frustrating that the team that is trying to go for picks beat us by 20.”
The Lakers’ latest loss featured Steve Nash missing the second half because of persisting nerve issues in his back. It also featured a stagnant offense in which the Lakers shot 38.8 percent from the field and 25 percent from three-point range with the worst offenders including Steve Blake (2 of 11) and Kendall Marshall (11 of 24). Kaman remained the lone bright spot, a rare start at center entailing a 25-point performance albeit on 11-of-24 shooting in 36 minutes.
“I thought he played well. He was the only one who could generate a good shot,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He had to do that. Sometimes that’s not the greatest thing for us to have one spot. But there were no other spots. But I thought Chris played well.”
Kaman has provided that job description for the past week, posting four double-digit efforts ever since Pau Gasol stayed out because of a strained right groin. This marks a stark contrast to when Kaman sat in 24 of the Lakers’ 52 games because of D’Antoni preferred defense from Robert Sacre or Jordan Hill and floor spacing from Shawne Williams or Ryan Kelly.
“I’m fine. I’m just old,” Kaman said. “It’s a lot of minutes. I’m not used to those minutes so it takes time to get that feel back and that rhythm back. It takes time to get your wind back and your legs. It’s a whole different thing when you’re playing than you’re practicing. It’s hard to simulate a game.”
This hardly matches what Kaman envisioned when he signed with the Lakers this offseason to a one-year deal worth $3.2 million to replace Dwight Howard. After playing eight of his 10 seasons with the NBA’s laughingstock otherwise known as the Clippers, Kaman hardly imagined their crosstown rival suddenly sinking toward mediocrity, either.
“I’ve never been a part of a team, especially a great franchise like the Lakers, the longevity they’ve had with winning and championships, this is tough to swallow for a lot of people,” Kaman said. “Especially the owners and fans who are coming out watching us and supporting us. It’s going to get better. But no one planned on these injuries. No one can anticipate that kind of stuff. It just happens.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org