Friday, December 27, 2013
Lakers hit a low point in Utah
By Dave McMenamin
SALT LAKE CITY -- If you wanted a vision of what a team dealing with perpetual injuries this season -- and now with losses starting to pile up -- looks like, you had to glance no further than Chris Kaman huddled in front of his locker following the Lakers' 105-103 road defeat at the hands of the Utah Jazz on Friday.
There sat a shirtless Kaman, still in his game shorts, left leg submerged in a bucket of ice water to help ease the swelling of the moderate sprain of his ankle that he suffered in the game's final minutes, picking apart a turkey sandwich -- stuffing pieces into his mouth along with spoonfuls of cottage cheese -- as he stared down at the floor for several minutes as reporters peppered him with questions about what's going wrong with this team.
Nick Young fouled out in the Lakers' loss at Utah but tried to remain positive: "We're fighting to the end and somehow we got to get over that hump."
It was Kaman's best game as a Laker -- a season-high 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks -- but it ended with him on the bench with a bum wheel, watching as Derrick Favors dunked the go-ahead put-back bucket with 2.1 seconds left with nobody thinking to box him out.
"We just didn't play good," Kaman said after his team lost its fourth straight game and for the ninth time in its past 13 to drop its record to 13-17. "We did some decent things, but in the second half we couldn't get stops."
L.A. actually made more stops in the second half (holding Utah to 17-for-39 shooting) than it did in the first (23-for-49), but there were some of the same old warts that showed up, notably the Lakers' 14 turnovers leading to 15 points for the Jazz and Utah's 25-12 lead in fast-break points.
What was more déjà vu about Friday's game was it was another missed opportunity, a winnable game that the Lakers just couldn't close out, something that has plagued them throughout the young season.
The Lakers' locker room felt cold Friday, as if the light had finally started to dim for this collection of players mostly on one-year deals, who have played for one another all season long but are starting to see the reality of where things could be heading.
For Kaman, there was no joy after his performance. Not with the loss, and with the injury, and with the knowledge that whenever Pau Gasol returns from his upper respiratory infection, he might find himself completely out of the rotation again.
How does Kaman handle going from starter one game to DNP-CD the next, and then back to starter?
"I have no approach," Kaman said. "I get shuffled around. So, when it's my turn, it's my turn."
The question is whether the Lakers will ever get their turn this season with a healthy Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Steve Blake added to the mix to try to make a run, or if there will be a lot more nights like Friday the rest of the way.
Maybe it's something about EnergySolutions Arena. For the second consecutive season, a trip to Utah in the first half of the schedule provided a major letdown. Last year the Lakers lost in Utah on a Wednesday night and coach Mike Brown was fired by Friday morning. Who knows what the fallout from this game will be.
Even the most upbeat of the Lakers' ragtag group, Nick Young himself, sounded like it all was getting to him.
"It's hard," Young said. "We're all positive. We're all trying our hardest. And it seems like we're right there and then somebody gets hurt. Like at the end of the game, I fouled out, Chris Kaman got hurt. So, it's tough. But we're staying with it. That's all we can ask for. We're fighting to the end and somehow we got to get over that hump."
But it's tough when none of your three captains -- Bryant, Nash or Gasol -- are in the game, let alone even on the bench in street clothes with the team (leaving rookie Ryan Kelly to greet the referees at center court on behalf of the Lakers before the tip).
The schedule now has L.A. lined up for four consecutive home games as it tries to get back on track, with three of them against teams in Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Utah that are all well below .500.
As dark as it seems now, the sunny days will surely leave the Lakers if they can't right themselves with that lot.
"We can't lose," Young said. "We got to take care of home court. This game has got to hurt. This game has got to make you want to go out there and kill somebody the next game."