The Lakers showed off their championship banners, a designated home game at Staples Center against the Clippers still providing the visual backdrop on which franchise holds historical equity in excellence. But on the court, the Clippers mocked the Lakers in a way far more painful than covering up those championship banners and retired jerseys as they do in every home game.
Every Blake Griffin dunk further exposed the Lakers’ unwillingness and inability to protect the rim. Every Clippers rebound showcased the Lakers’ lack of hustle. Every Chris Paul pass that led to an open dunk, jumper or three-point shot revealed the Lakers’ helplessness.
Once it finally ended, a Lakers’ 142-94 loss Thursday to the Clippers at Staples Center, the once esteemed franchise stepped off the court and headed to the locker room amid a walk of shame. This amounted to the Lakers’ worst margin of defeat in franchise history since losing by 46 points to Portland nearly 18 years ago. This turned out to be the most painful loss for the Lakers in a most painful season. And once the Lakers had time to process through it all, they echoed words that the non-sellout crowd of 18,488 all must have felt as they watched the mess pile up.
“We took a body blow and it looked like we took it from our knees,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. ” We couldn’t make shots. We couldn’t finish plays. We couldn’t do anything. The air went out big time and they smelled blood in the water and they killed us.”
That the Clippers treated their crosstown rivals to an open training camp clinic where they showed off highlight reel after highlight reel against a dummy defense shouldn’t be surprising. After all, the Clippers beat the Lakers by 36 points nearly two months ago. The Lakers (21-41) also remain dead last in the Western Conference for reasons that looked painful to watch against the Clippers. No defense. No talent. An offensive identity that hinges on hot shooting performances.
But this one looked different. It appeared as if the Lakers showed the first signs of quitting.
“I don’t think we quit,” Lakers center Robert Sacre said. “It was just a tough break. We can’t really dwell on it.”
Despite his words, the Lakers’ body language suggested otherwise.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak appeared in agony as he watched the unwatchable from the sidelines. D’Antoni looked agitated on the hustle and focus so poor that the Lakers opened the second half lazily inbounding a pass that Matt Barnes quickly intercepted for a layup. Players griped at each other for missed assignments. Players appeared deflated to the inevitable.
A team that once prided itself on effort amid never-ending injuries to Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash suddenly morphed into a team appearing numb at it all.
“With the way it’s set up now, it’s tough,” Lakers guard Jordan Farmar said. “Guys want to showcase what they can do. When it goes like that, it’s human nature to think we’re not going to win tonight anyway so let’s try to play basketball for myself. That’s when it gets hard. No matter how good the player you are, it makes it tough on you to try to do it alone.”
The Lakers hardly envisioned these circumstances from happening.
Outside of Bryant, the Lakers never openly talked about winning an NBA championship this season, mindful that Dwight Howard’s departure via free agency, Metta World Peace’s defection via a cost-cutting measure and a potentially injury-laden group provided more question marks than answers. But the Lakers still sounded determined they could field a competitive roster with a flurry group of cast-off players on one-year deals could blossom with more playing time.
Those success stories range from a developing Nick Young, a surprising Kendall Marshall, a leading Jordan Farmar and a defending Wesley Johnson. But such developments have proved fleeting throughout the season. More often, the Lakers have become exposed with both their injuries and lack in talent.
“They’re trying. It’s not like they’re not trying,” D’Antoni said. “When you’re a little bit slower than the other team and a lot less athletic, they just carved us up.”
So does the Lakers’ front office deserve part of the blame for not assembling a good enough roster?
“You don’t want to get that far into it,” Lakers forward Pau Gasol said. “I think you have to focus on what you can do individually and collectively to make this better and help each other out and support each other. This is the best way to go right now with what we have and we can make it better.”
The Lakers offered very little of that. Instead, the Clippers offered highlight reel after highlight reel to show off their talent, to hurt the Lakers’ dignity and expose the team’s declining effort to still salvage a terrible season. Even the ones that hope the Lakers would just compete for lottery ping pong balls found no joy in this.
“We’re not looking to tank,” Lakers forward Kent Bazemore said. “We’re trying to win games. No one here wants to tank. We’re the Los Angeles Lakers. We have to have some pride.”
Five things to take from Lakers’ 142-94 loss to Clippers
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