Friday, March 8, 2019

Lakers Playoff Talk - "Deserve" Has Nothing To Do With It

Three days, two games, two more… who knows how to refer to them these days. The temptation had been to refer to the Lakers’ most recent shortfalls as body blows, but this would beg a fairly obvious question – body blows to what, exactly? Had this team provided any indication that their midseason meltdown, along with the dreadful form against subpar competition were firmly behind them, we might have been tempted to speak seriously about a possible red-hot close to the regular season, and a shot at the 2018-19 campaign extending into May.

Broadcasts continue to refer to the “playoff hopes” of a Lakers team sitting six and a half games out of the final postseason spot in the West, with fewer than twenty games left to play. This team, from the vaunted Western Conference, would fail to qualify for the playoffs both in the “JV” East, as well as under a straight 1-16 seeding system. These guys have conspired to lose nine of twelve games since the greatest player of this generation returned from injury. We’re not having such conversations about the Minnesota Timberwolves or the New Orleans Pelicans. These obligatory mentions aren’t a sincere discussion of a scenario grounded in reality, but a testament to famous people in a glamorous location, and a desperate need to construct an illusion of hope around the prospects for their season, long past the point at which it makes any sense to continue doing so.

We will laugh about the “sad” and “depressing” race for the final playoff spot in the East, in willful ignorance of the facts that: the teams at the bottom of that playoff picture sport records superior to that of LeBron and Co. and, more importantly, appear to be trying for more than a quarter at a time.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Lakers Have Taken a New Path to the Same Destination

It’s tough to pin down exactly which damaging loss definitively extinguished the Lakers’ fragile playoff aspirations.

The season sweep at the hands of the Orlando Magic didn’t help. Getting blown out in DC by the Wizards was pretty rough, as were home losses to the playing-for-next-year Grizzlies, Knicks and Cavaliers. In the past week alone they’d dropped consecutive games to the Grizzlies (again) and Pelicans, before blowing a double-digit third quarter lead at home against the high-flying Bucks. Regardless, at the close of business on March 2, a fairly decisive loss to the league-worst Phoenix Suns in hand, we can decisively declare that the Lakers’ “summer vacation” will begin in April for a sixth consecutive year.

As of Christmas, the Lakers, having thumped the Warriors in their own building, were winning nearly two-thirds of their games, and had a rock-solid stockpile of young talent. The groin injury LeBron James suffered Christmas night not only derailed any hopes of a meaningful playoff push, upending the narrative surrounding the season, but also recalibrated the organization’s plan to build around him.

Gone is the illusion of a slow, patient build, LeBron mentoring the young core into a selling point for superstar acquisitions. In the wake of the struggles in LeBron’s absence – and Anthony Davis’s trade request – any notions of incremental improvement and long-termism have given way to the pursuit of a running mate for LBJ.

It’s unfair to lay the entirety of this flop at LeBron’s feet. Plus, rummaging around for a villain is rarely a rewarding process. It would not have been unreasonable to expect contention from these Lakers this season. However, fans can be forgiven for expecting that this Lakers season would at least be fun. Alas. The Lakers, disjointed alienated and embattled, will, again, spend March shutting the season down, in pursuit of ping pong balls, praying for the next superstar.