What the Lakers’ front office that includes majority owner Dr. Jerry Buss, Vice President and son Jim Buss, and General Manager Mitch Kupchak, envisioned after signing point guard Steve Nash and center Dwight Howard, was a run at a record-tying 17th NBA title.
Instead, what’s transpired in this rocky season has been poor play, injuries, and a 24-28 record after last Sunday’s 107-97 drubbing at the hands of the defending champion Miami Heat, as they closed out the Grammy trip 4-3.
Nash missed 24 games early in the campaign with a broken left leg, and Howard, who is coming off major back surgery, is playing with a severely sprained right shoulder.
When the pair appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s NBA issue, Nash and Howard were all smiles, but losing will dry up all grins.
Add to the mix power forward Jordan Hill is out for the season (hip), and starting power forward Pau Gasol is lost for six to eight weeks (plantar fascia in his right foot).
All of this doesn’t bode well for the Lakers making the playoffs, and even a switch to Head Coach Mike D’Antoni hasn’t really helped.
But there’s been one constant and that’s perennial All-Star shooting guard Kobe Bryant, who is 34 years old and in his 17th season.
On Sunday, Bryant filled the net with a team-high 28 points and game-best nine assists, while pulling down six rebounds.
The Lakers were undone by seven turnovers in the fourth quarter after having seven miscues through three quarters.
Miami (34-14) took full advantage of the poor play by outscoring the Lakers, 29-24, in the final quarter.
Miami’s small forward LeBron James has now dropped in 30 points in five straight games, and is arguably the best player in the NBA along with Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant.
James finished with a game-high 32 points and collected seven rebounds with four assists for the Heat, who shot 55 percent from the field (44 of 80).
The Lakers (35 of 70 for 50 percent) pulled ahead 13-10 with 5:25 left in the first quarter when Howard (15 points and nine rebounds) made two free throws, and led 26-25 on point guard Steve Blake’s three-pointer to close out the quarter.
Power forward Earl Clark (18 points with nine caroms) scored and added a free-throw that gave the Lakers a 36-31 lead with just under nine minutes left in the second quarter.
With 5:48 left, small forward Antawn Jamison’s hoop in the lane made it 42-35, but a basket from James with 4:01 left got the Heat within 44-41.
Miami is a fast-breaking outfit and outscored the Lakers, 12-9, as the pair entered the locker room knotted at 53-53, as Nash had 10 of his 15 points at the half.
Miami shooting guard Dwyane Wade (30 points and five assists) hammered a dunk on a fast break with 5:01 left in the third quarter that pushed the Heat ahead 67-64, but the Lakers, who were outrebounded, 38-29, went on a 7-4 spurt as Bryant was fouled as he canned a left-handed, nine-footer with 2:27 left. The free-throw tied it at 71-71.
The Heat would outscore the Lakers, 7-2, and take a five-point lead into the fourth quarter.
Wade’s 15-footer made it 84-81 with 8:19 showing, James’ run-out slam with 5:56 left gave the Heat a 91-84 edge, and small forward Shane Battier (nine points) hit a three-pointer to make it 100-90 with 2:38 showing on the clock.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.