With that sentiment in mind, we examine the maddeningly nutty Los Angeles Lakers in a postgame video...
...and in further analysis below...
ONE MOMENT A lot of things happened Sunday afternoon at Staples in L.A.'s 91-88 loss to the Blazers, some requiring a little reflection.
One, though, does not: It will be difficult to find a stranger seven seconds of basketball than the final ticks of this afternoon's game, no matter how hard you look.
The Lakers, who had in the fourth quarter against the Blazers scored all of four points over the first 8:30 of play, played well enough on the other end to keep themselves in it. In the final minute, they made their move. First, a deep Kobe Bryant three-pointer pulled L.A. within two with 49 seconds to play. About 20 seconds later, and a driving layup-and-one from 24 put them ahead by a point. This isn't the strange part, given the commonplace nature of the Kobe Komeback.
No, the rabbit hole stuff was still to come.
After a Marcus Camby put back with 12.7 remaining gave Portland a one-point lead, the Lakers put the ball in Kobe's hands out of a timeout. Cue the Cavalcade of Weird. Martell Webster, thinking the Blazers had a foul to give- they didn't- hacked Kobe out near the three-point line, sending 24 to the stripe. "We definitely didn't want to foul in that situation," Blazers coach Nate McMillan said later.
Worst. Foul. Ever.
The inexplicably poor play from Webster sent Kobe, the game's foremost closer, to the line... where he left both freebies short. But wait! Pau Gasol grabbed one of his five offensive rebounds on the afternoon, and kicked it to Derek Fisher on the perimeter, who after a quick pump fake was basically run over by Portland's Andre Miller. Worst. Foul. Ever. Part. II. With only 4.7 to play, surely Mr. 0.4, an 85.7 percent shooter from the line this year, would go and give the Lakers the lead. Right?
Fish made only one of two. Tie game. After a timeout, the Blazers tossed the ball into Webster, guarded by Kobe, but veering towards Fish. From here, strange got stranger. "He didn't need a three," Fisher said. "The game was tied. So I really wasn't thinking he was going to stop and pick the ball up. My thinking is he's going to split through (me and Kobe). I'm going down, reaching in, and he just kind of came up with his arms and shot a running, one-legged three that I was not expecting."
It was an odd decision from Webster, to say the least, but proved effective because Fisher bailed him out. Figuring they had a foul to give and a shot at a steal, Fish went to give the Spalding a poke. Except when Webster rose to shoot, Fish couldn't stop his arm, and hacked him. Three free throws. Worst. Foul. Ever. Part. III. Not to mention a fairly shocking breakdown from a seasoned, salty veteran. "Obviously, you don't ever want to reach in those situations," Fish said. "I was anticipating a totally different move on his part... It's a poor play on my part, and I'll accept the responsibility."
Webster buried his trio of free throws, leaving L.A. chasing three points with 3.1 seconds to play.
After the timeout, the Lakers run a well-executed set of screens to free... Gasol for a three. The shot was dead on, just a little too long. Game, set, match for Portland. A few things about this. First, it was absolutely the play drawn up by Phil Jackson. PJ confirmed it, as did Pau after the game. Second, the call was a surprise to Gasol, no question. ("It's not the kind of a shot I take on a regular basis, not a shot that I practice either, on a regular basis. From now on," he said with a smile, "I'll try to put some work in it.") Third, while the call seemed odd, given how poorly the Lakers shot as a group from downtown (five-of-21 to that point) is Pau-from-downtown all that wacky an idea?
Okay, maybe so. (I'm sure all the lines are lit on the postgame radio show.) But the game reflected issues the Lakers have seen all year. Poor shooting from outside and an inability to put points on the board, to name a few. The Blazers seemed like they were begging the Lakers to take the game, and L.A. simply wouldn't oblige. Some might wonder why the game was so close at the end, anyway, since the Lakers took a one-point lead into halftime and Portland played the final two quarters without Brandon Roy, who left with a knee injury.
With two games left on the slate, the team is no closer to answers than they were with 10. Or 20. The Lakers weren't uniformly bad this afternoon, but certainly weren't uniformly good, and even when wins appear gift-wrapped can't take advantage.
It was a curious end to a critical game in a season growing curiouser and curiouser (and worrisome-er and worrisome-er) by the moment.
BYNUM WON'T PRACTICE MONDAY Asked for a status update on Andrew Bynum, Jackson was brief. "There is none," he said. Though that wasn't entirely true. "He'll work out during the course of the week. We had anticipated that he'd probably practice on Monday if he was asymptomatic (Saturday), but he was not so we'll hold that off for a while." I didn't necessarily think Bynum would be ready to hit the floor Monday in El Segundo, but to hear it confirmed is not going to make Lakers fans feel good.
Personally, I think if Bynum isn't ready to start running with his teammates by Thursday, he won't be on the floor when the playoffs open next weekend. This is not an official decree from the organization, but I don't really see how the math works any other way. I can't imagine they'd risk putting him in a game without a couple practices/recoveries under his belt. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking a lot louder.
LAKERS LIKELY TO START PLAYOFFS WITH NBA'S THIRD BEST RECORD With Orlando's win this afternoon in Cleveland, the Magic moved a game ahead of the Lakers for the overall number two seed. Both teams have two games remaining, but while L.A.'s are certainly winnable- vs. Sacramento and the Clippers- the Magic aren't exactly burdened with tough opponents this week, either. They'll see Indiana and Philly, two teams who have already packed it in for the season.
Of course, Minny's starters have led the way to 15 games, which makes beating their second string the equivalent of smoking a D-League quintet. To truly believe a light bulb brightened for the largely disappointing bench mob, especially with Lamar Odom in the first five, I'd need a sequel against better competition.
Like, say, Portland's bench.
Not only didn't that happen, the goal fell drastically short of accomplished. The bench's combined eight points weren't just quadrupled by Portland's pine unit (Rudy Fernandez scored three second half points as a starter for an injured Brandon Roy). They were doubled by leading sub Martell Webster and matched by Jerryd Bayless, third among Portland scorers total off the bench.
Sorry, but that's just wretched.
Shannon Brown was two-for-six to lead his compadres with five points, Jordan Farmar missed five shots in as many tries, and while Sasha Vujacic's two-handed jam off a baseline inbound certainly brought the house down, that bucket represented two-thirds of his point total. The backup backcourt also contributed seven tries from behind the arc, along with seven misses. Throw in D.J. Mbenga's scoreless (and even rebound-less) eight minutes, and one of the Lakers' more pressing issues resurfaced yet again:
The reserves simply aren't getting it done.
BIG NUMBERS 6: The Lakers only suffered a sextet of turnovers, their best showing on the season. Even more impressive, the opening twelve minutes were entirely clean, and they finished the first half with just pair of gaffes. Plus, all six turnovers came after offensive fouls, further emphasizing how much team-wide care the rock received.
Of course, it's also fitting such execution on that particular end would be coupled with a cavalcade of mental breakdowns during the game's last minute. We've said it a million times this season and may end up saying it a million more before the postseason ends. This is one seriously inconsistent team.
34.7: Kobe's percentage from the field in his return after missing two games to rest a swelling right knee. This figure comes on the heels of a 21.7 clip against the Jazz and 33.3 against San Antonio, the most recent contests before hiatus. While the ultra-optimistic might note how the Mamba is slowly trending upward, it's a nonetheless unsettling development with the playoffs around the corner. Kobe acknowledged the need to reestablish his flow, and absolutely plans to complete in the remaining pair of regular season games.
17: Marcus Camby's rebound total, nicely complementing ten points and four blocks. I'd be thrilled with those numbers on a regular basis from Andrew Bynum. I'd even be happier if he were on the floor to get any kind of numbers. So would his teammates.
QUOTEABLE Derek Fisher, on the competition level in the Western Conference: "Our margin for error is not as big as it was in the past. I think teams have gotten better. I think teams have closed the gap in terms of the difference between us and other teams. But I think also we're operating at a level that's below what we're capable of. It's not that far off. Not as far as I'm concerned and I think our team is concerned, but it doesn't mean we're okay with what's happening."
Phil Jackson on how the playoffs can change things: "Well, I told the staff when we were sitting out there on the bench and watching the game that the level of intensity is going to be so different in one week. From this Sunday to next Sunday, there is going to be an incredible amount of difference in intensity that's there in the games. The critical nature of every play becomes obvious. If we can match that, we'll be fine."
Jackson, on whether or not starters will sit over the last two games: "They'll play. They won't play heavy minutes, but they'll certainly play. We'll play guys in the minutes they're accustomed to, 30 minutes hopefully, at least. So that they get the work and we'll try to keep guys out of 40 minute games."
Pau Gasol, on the need to improve the quality of play: "Everyone needs to step up their game and produce a little more to beat the best teams out there. Otherwise, if we continue like this it's going to be tough."
Kobe Bryant, on his missed free throws. Like we mentioned, some funny lines.
More from Kobe on execution, discovering rhythm and the Blazers