The cast of characters settled into this city in different eras and witnessed a few events that soon became customary.
They saw purple and gold streamers fall from the rafters. They popped champagne. They soaked in the warm weather, the deafening cheers and the adoring crowds during the championship parades.
Phil Jackson, Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant won all five of their NBA championships together here. The Showtime Lakers also won five NBA titles with a supporting cast that included Kurt Rambis (four championships) and Byron Scott (three rings). Rambis later helped Jackson win four of his five NBA championships with the Lakers as a key assistant.
Those men witnessed something far different in the Lakers’ 101-94 loss to the New York Knicks on Thursday at Staples Center. Scott oversaw the Lakers (17-46) drop their sixth game in the last seven contests as they march toward the worst record in franchise history. Bryant could only watch from the sideline as he nursed a season-ending right shoulder injury. New York president (Jackson), head coach (Fisher) and assistant (Rambis) experienced temporary elation amid the a rare Knicks victory, their 13-51 record boasting the NBA’s worst record.
All of which prompted Scott to unload his dissatisfaction with the team at a much faster rate than when he made key outside shots with the Lakers’ Showtime teams.
“This got away before the game even started,” Scott said. “Our mindset was nowhere it should have been.”
Where was it?
“We were selfish as a basketball team,” Scott said. “A lot of our guys came in looking at New York and thinking this was going to be an easy win.”
The Lakers often thought that way when the regular-season became a long marathon en route to another NBA championship run. At times, games in mid-March seemed as boring as watching paint dry. But how does a 17-win team feel that way when plenty of the team features players on one-year deals hoping to cement their NBA future?
“Exactly,” Scott said. “How can you look at anybody in this league and say this is going to be an easy win?”
The Lakers hardly made it look easy. Instead, they made it look unwatchable for reasons beyond TNT dropping its telecast.
Despite the Knicks averaging a second-worst 92.2 points, they finished with nine points more than that. Knicks guard Tim Hardaway Jr dropped 22 points on a 8-of-14 clip, including 5-of-7 from three-point range. That prompted Scott to wonder aloud why the Lakers tried forcing him to the basket when the scouting report stressed limiting his outside shooting. Lakers rookie guard Jordan Clarkson struggled with 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting and one assist. Clarkson’s poor showing also involved picking up two early fouls that prompted Scott to yank him at only the 7:53 mark of the first quarter.
“JC went backwards a little bit. He was trying to force things too much,” Scott said. “He didn’t do a good job of running the show. They sped him up and he tried to do too many things.”
But those things hardly mirror Clarkson’s sample size where he has averaged 14 points on 44.5 percent shooting and 4.1 assists through 21 starts.
“It’s a small step back. I’m still growing. It’s still up and down since I’m a rookie,” Clarkson said. “I’m going to start playing together. I’m not trying to have games like this. I’m going to continue to work and hopefully pull it together.”
The Lakers tried pulling together, reducing the Knicks’ 14-point lead to a 98-94 deficit after Jordan Hill made a three-pointer with 24.2 seconds left. Hill posted a team-leading 19 points and 10 rebounds. Lakers rookie center Tarik Black had 10 points and a career-high 11 boards. The Lakers outrebounded the Knicks, 51-33. Jeremy Lin had 14 points and seven assists in only 22 minutes, though he did not play for the final seven minutes.
“I put him in the same category as everybody else to be honest with you,” Scott said. “I didn’t really see one guy that I thought come out with the right mindset.”
Perhaps Hill failing to jump during the tipoff provided a sign. Or when Ryan Kelly’s lone missed shot entailed a hook that nearly went over the basket. Or Wesley Johnson’s 2-of-10 clip from the field. Or the Lakers running up and down the court with the same intensity as a walk in the park.
“We could have came out with more aggression and put our foot down a little bit more and put our stamp on the game. I don’t think we did that,” Lin said. “I wouldn’t say that guys came in here and thought it’s the Knicks so we’re going to kill them. But I didn’t think we came out as the aggressor. There’s a fine line between us not showing up and not caring about the game. I’m not saying that at all. But when we came in, it was a little bit more of a passive mindset instead of an aggressive mindset.”
The aggressiveness seemed reserved for Scott’s blistering post-game press conference.
“I guess New York wasn’t on the schedule,” Scott said. “I’m sure D-Fish would like to play us 10 more times before the season is over. If I was him, I would.”
Scott wasn’t done.
He said Jabari Brown “played the best,” both praise for his seven-point game in his NBA debut and criticism considering he had played in the Development League beforehand. Scott reflected on his time with the Showtime Lakers where they beat up on inferior opponents both to boast supremacy and minimize any risk of an upset. Scott reported telling his players, “We got exactly what we deserved.”
“We came out slow and thought this would be a win for us instead of coming out and trying to take it,” Ellington said. “We thought they would hand it to us. You can’t play like that.”
It seemed as if Scott experienced flashbacks to his earlier years in coaching when he admitted throwing chairs and berating his players. So how does Scott handle them now?
“I go home and beat up the dog,” he said before stressing to any animal activists that he was joking. “I don’t even have a dog.”
Instead, Scott will do other things. He will delay watching the tape to clear his mind. Scott granted the team the day off on Friday after practicing all week. Scott will spend that time off with his grandchildren.
But when the Lakers return for games against the Atlanta Hawks (Sunday) and at Golden State (Monday)?
“We better be awake,” Lin said. “Otherwise they’ll slap us around. We don’t want that at all. We have to come and be ready.”
Otherwise, such a bad performance could affect what Scott has called the team’s “evaluation period.” With the Lakers fielding five unrestricted free agents and four players on team options, such games could become a blotch on a player’s report card.
“We want good players. We want good people,” Scott said. “But we want guys who want to win every single game too. I have no place for guys who are selfish and guys who are looking out for themselves. We haven’t been doing that all season long to be honest with you. So tonight surprised me.”