Last month when the Lakers packed up tents and took the circus on the road, like many I looked at the final game on the trip- wrestling the Grizzlies- and thought L.A. could find a little trouble. Start with the logistics. Eight games, 13 days. That's a lot of hoop, particularly when it includes three back-to-backs and a trip to the White House. There was the prospect of a draining game an afternoon earlier against the Celtics. And, of course (though it still feels odd writing it), since a 1-8 start the Memphis has been one of the NBA's best teams.Mark Werber/AP Photo
Kobe made history Monday night, but for the Lakers, the wrong team was celebrating in the end.
Add in a massive amount of attention paid to the pursuit of franchise milestones, and it gets even tougher.
All told, perhaps Monday's 95-93 loss to the Grizzlies at FedEx Forum shouldn't come as a surprise. I mean, if I can see something coming, how shocking could it be?
Let's start with history. Kobe Bryant entered the game needing 29 points to eclipse Jerry West as the franchise's all-time leading scorer. With a gentle slam at the 4:14 mark of the third quarter, he hit the magic number. It wasn't a flashy play- can't risk hurting that fractured right index finger just to put on a show- but given how many of his other 25K-plus have come with considerable flair, the "sin" is easily forgivable. Passing West was a humbling moment for Bryant, and as Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles writes, another very impressive line in an even more impressive C.V.
Unfortunately, losing the game and ending the trip on a down note wiped a lot of the shine off that apple.
As Andy noted in his postgame report, while they didn't quite pull this sort of shenanigans, the Lakers were a discombobulated bunch through most of the night. Early foul trouble put Pau Gasol on the bench, the offense lacked balance, turnovers popped up at inopportune times, and as a group they missed far too many free throws (17-27, 63%). All classic signs of fatigue. Certainly Phil Jackson, who missed out on passing Pat Riley to become the all-time winningest coach in Lakers history, thought Kobe's chase for history was a distraction as well. He told the team at halftime to get Kobe "over the hump," so they could "play team ball again."
Still, despite everything the Lakers had a chance to win on their final possession. Kobe unsuccessfully probed the Grizzlies D before finding Ron Artest open on the wing for a 3-pointer, which clanged off the back iron. The sequence wasn't particularly smooth, but the final look was one which Bryant and Artest were both pleased (save the outcome, of course).
There was some grumpiness, however, going beyond the final score. A quick check of the box shows very little activity for L.A.'s bigs. For anyone not wearing 24 on his back, really. While he was an efficient 16-28, Kobe took almost 40% of the team's field goal attempts, and had more than the other four guys in the starting lineup combined (25). Gasol and Andrew Bynum, with seven and three shots respectively, were among the most lightly used, this after Bynum went off against the Celtics Sunday afternoon.
The lack of inside game wasn't lost on Gasol, who made a point of pointing out the lack of touches for L.A.'s big men.
In the end, the Lakers cap off a "so-so" trip with a 5-3 record, winning a big game in Boston but losing the other three games they played against good (Cleveland, Memphis) or good-at-home (Toronto) teams. The road- I'm talking the metaphorical one, now- doesn't get much easier, either. The Lakers will play five straight games against playoff teams starting with Charlotte on Wednesday.
From there, it's Denver (9-1 over their last 10) on Friday, a Saturday visit to Portland (I think we all know what that entails), followed by San Antonio Monday, and a trip to Utah (9-1 over their last 10, 20-6 at home).
No rest for the weary.