Kobe Bryant tried returning to action after getting treatment for back spasms, but was ultimately unable.
The Texas Two-Step is officially underway, and were this an episode of "So You Think You Can Dance," falling 105-85 to the Spurs might feel like a "no" on the surface. Except the Laker contestants were shimmying to "Let the bodies hit the floor," a tough ditty to pull off in champeen fashion. It was known entering the game Pau Gasol was a no go and Kobe Bryant would be doing battle with a fractured finger. But who knew deep reserve Adam Morrison would come down with a sore throat/flu? Or that Sasha Vujacic would pull a hamstring and enter "day-to-day" status? Or that Ron Artest would sprain a finger while jostling with Richard Jefferson, further complicating an already slow return to form from a concussion?
Folks dropped so rapidly, Luke Walton, out of necessity, got pressed back to action earlier than expected/wanted from a pinched nerve in his back. The forward did enough good things enough to impress Forum Blue and Gold mainstay "Zephid," but probably wasn't able to make fans truly smile in the face of sobering adversity involving a certain shooting guard.
After a few games clearly held back by his ailing digit, Kobe actually appeared like his old self again during the game's opening quarter, thanks to his flexible splint of old. Shots dropping. Ball handled with ease. Briefly, he appeared like the guy who could carry the team on his back. Until it gave out during a spin-reverse-spin sequence against Manu Ginobli. The basket was good, but Kobe immediately grimaced and it was obvious something wasn't right. Eventually, those back spasms meant trouble walking (evidenced harshly when 24 got pick-pocketed by George Hill), and two attempts at in-game treatment couldn't do the trick. That he remains hopeful of playing today against Dallas (as opposed to the usual "you bet your butt I'll be out there" sentiments) is a reminder in and of itself that even the league's toughest cat is in fact human with a flesh and blood body.D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images
Andrew Bynum and Tim Duncan's "game within the game" was fun to watch.
So how did the team compete without Kobe? At times, nicely. Andrew Bynum's mano y' mano with Tim Duncan ultimately left him with the stick's short end, but the kid was fearless and, at times, quite the handful. And the fourth quarter saw a double digit San Antonio lead cut down to seven with Kobe and Gasol out of commission, which my brother found a positive element to build upon. But the Lakers also faded hard after that flicker of light, making the O.C. Register's Kevin Ding wonder if enough Lakers are willing/able to pick up the slack in Kobe's absence. If heads haven't been wrapped around that concept, they better be, because as Elliott Teaford from the Daily News shares, PJ and Kobe didn't peg a lack of healthy bodies as the issue, but rather the lack of execution:
- To be sure, they had moments of excellence without Gasol and Bryant, but there weren't enough of them to pull out a victory over the Spurs (23-13). Bryant admitted he didn't watch the final quarter because he was receiving treatment in the locker room. He didn't have to see it to know what went wrong, however. "You just focus on execution, that's all," he said when asked about what the league-leading Lakers (29-9) must do on the court to snap out of their midseason funk. "A lot of teams want to get all dramatic and hold team meetings and all this stuff.
"You focus on execution. That's all it is. We lost because we blew assignments."
Jackson also declined to use the team's injuries as an excuse for their latest loss. "I told them they played poorly," he said. "I thought when you get down by six points (after trailing by as many as 22 points) and then you turn the ball over twice, you've just given the game away. "There's no excuse for that."
The circumstances may not provide an "excuse," but perhaps an asterisk when it comes to evaluating how these squads stack up against each other. Pounding The Rock's Wayne Vore admits the parameters made San Antonio's victory fairly anticlimactic:
- There are a lot of ways to slice this game up. If we had hit a decent number of our free throws, say going 8-11 instead of 4-11, we would have had 4 more points. If they had missed a normal amount of their free throws, say going 11-16 instead of 15-16 (Artest and Odom combined to go 12-12 and are both barely over 60% shooters), they would have scored 4 less points. That would make it a 28 point game. It means we would have been up 20 at the end of 3. It means they never would have gotten closer to 14. It means the fourth quarter never would have been played by starters.How...ever. It didn't happen that way. Instead, we had to grind one out against a Lakers team without Kobe and Gasol. Big whoop. Bynum played just over 42 mintues and Odom played almost 40. Kobester logged 32:18 through 3 quarters, but didn't even take a shot in the 4th. Just a strange game all the way around.
If the "enemy" scribes aren't reading much into this, are the locals following suit? Depends which ones you ask. ESPN's Dave McMenamin thinks, despite the extenuating circumstances, the purple and gold's rough patch leaves room for legitimate questions to be asked:
- Right now, the Lakers are like a college team that gets a lower NCAA tournament seeding than everybody expected because the selection committee looked at its record and saw that it only beat up on cupcakes and lost all the games that mattered. The Lakers are 13-8 against teams with better than .500 records through Tuesday, with three of those victories coming against a young Oklahoma City team, against Memphis before the Grizzlies started to gel and against New Orleans with Chris Paul out of the lineup.
There will be plenty of more challenges to come, starting with a game Wednesday as the Mavericks look to avenge an embarrassing 35-point loss in their last meeting, and continuing through the rest of January with a rubber match against the Clippers, a Finals rematch with the Orlando Magic and then an eight-game road trip that extends into February and includes stops in Cleveland and Boston.
"It's just a period of the season right now where it's a tough stretch," Bryant said. "But, you have one of those every once in a while unless you're the Bulls going 72-10.
Me? I tend to agree with C.A. Clark of Silver Screen and Roll. You shouldn't blow off results and specifics wholesale, but when lineups are constantly shuffled due to injury and continuity is affected, the "nothing" a win or less means in January takes on a whole new context:
- At this point, you can read absolutely NOTHING from the Lakers recent stretch of poor play (1-3 in the last 4). In fact, I'm placing a moratorium on any definitive statements regarding this team for the next month. The Lakers happen to have been blessed with this run of good health just as they hit the hardest part of their schedule (and quite possibly the hardest stretch of schedule for any team in the NBA ... the Texas two-step, a couple games at home and then an 8 game road trip including road games against Cleveland and Boston). At this point, no level of Lakers failure is out of the question, and none of it means a damn bit of nothing. If the Lakers enter the postseason with this level of injuries, they aren't repeating as champions. If they are healthy by that point, none of this stretch means anything.
Email the Kamenetzky Brothers at ESPNLandOLakers@gmail.com, follow them on Twitter at ESPNLandOLakers.