In what was arguably the most disappointing season in the history of their storied franchise, the Los Angeles got swept in the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 1967 in front of a home crowd that had largely trickled out, unable to watch anymore of the dysfunctional reality show that saw Lakers Center Dwight Howard unconscionably get ejected and a fierce rival that pitied and felt sorry for them.
It was that bad.
Some in attendance at the Staples Center in the Lakers 103-82 to San Antonio in game four of the first round Western Conference series started leaving before halftime. Jack Nicholson was long gone when the Spurs, a team that has fiercely battled the Lakers for a decade for superiority in the Western Conference and the NBA, just started feeling sorry for the Lakers after vanquishing them.
“Obviously, it wasn’t a fair fight,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “When you’re a competitor, you want to compete on an even basis, and the Lakers weren’t able to do that. … Even though it wasn’t a fair fight, we still want to win the series, and I’m glad we did. Our focus was great.”
Spurs point guard Tony Parker acted sheepish, as if the team beat an NBDA team, which the Lakers largely were for most of the series, especially when Steve Nash and Steve Blake were sidelined with injuries.
“It was just a weird feeling,” Parker said. “Obviously, I am happy we won, but it was just weird. They were missing a lot of guys, so we’re just happy to go to the next round.”
Parker scored 23 points and Pau Gasol scored 16 for the Lakers, but the game was over when the Spurs took an 18-point lead into halftime. Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, the anti-Phil Jackson, now has now lost 14 of his last 15 playoff games.
The most symbolic moment in the evening came when Howard inexplicably got his second technical foul at the start of the third quarter and got ejected, taking with him the only chance the Lakers had of winning the game. A minute later, Kobe Bryant, perhaps symbolically dressed in black, came onto the court to a standing ovation.
Bryant, who is as intense and focused as any player in the history of the league, clashed with the lackadaisical and aloof Howard all season long. And so it was more than symbolic that Bryant made his way to the bench, with the help of crutches, a minute after the enigmatic, disgruntled, and often immature Howard perhaps left the Staples Center floor for the final time.
The possible future era of Howard looked rough. Lakers fans hoped a chance to be the go-to player with Bryant out might convince Howard to stay in Los Angeles. However, after scoring just seven points, grabbing eight rebounds, looking indifferent and apathetic, and committing two technicals and five turnovers, Howard may be headed to Brooklyn or some other setting.
One thing is for sure–the Lakers offseason may be as much of a reality show as this past season, which saw them fire head coach Mike Brown and hire D’Antoni instead of Phil Jackson, which seems to have set the franchise back, especially when D’Antoni had trouble adjusting after key player after key player got hurt and could not play. Never mind that D’Antoni, at the outset, tried to run his fast-paced offense with a team, with two high post players in Gasol and Howard, an aging guard in Bryant and power forward Metta “Ron Artest” World Peace that was meant for a slower tempo.
Even with all the troubles, Bryant willed them into the playoffs, but he paid for it with his ankle during a game against Golden State, and Bryant missed the entirety fo the playoffs after surgery that will sideline him for at least 6 weeks. In the first-round series, all the Lakers had to do was look at their opponent–the Spurs–to see an aging team that had the chemistry and coaching they seemed to lack all season long.
Los Angeles will have to deal with their geriatric roster, Bryant’s recovery from his Achilles injury, Dwight Howard’s contract situation, questions surrounding D’Antoni, and trying to find stability at the very top of the franchise in a town in which the Lakers are scrutinized like no other sports team.
The offseason technically starts for Los Angeles on Monday, but when it comes to the Lakers in Hollywood, there is never an offseason.