Lakers lay it all on the line and still come up short
So began the Longest Week in Lakerdom.
A funny thing happened to the Lakers on their way to the playoffs —
Oh, sorry, I just had something caught in my throat.
That’s what happened to the Lakers too. In the last six seconds of Sunday’s game, Kobe Bryant missed two free throws, Derek Fisher missed one and Fisher then fouled Portland’s Martell Webster while he shot a three-pointer, sending Webster to the line for the three free throws that won the game, 91-88.
On the bright side for the Lakers, they may not have to worry about losing to Portland in the first round!
With Sunday’s victory, the Trail Blazers moved into a tie for No. 6 with San Antonio and Oklahoma City, with most of the tiebreakers in their favor.
In the bad news for the Lakers, they have to play someone and whoever it is, the Spurs, Thunder or the Trail Blazers, is going better than they are.
Incredible as the series of events was, it didn’t even hurt the Lakers, at least according to the Lakers.
Bryant isn’t called the game’s best closer for nothing. Fisher, who’s more famous for winning games than losing them, is an 86% free-throw shooter.
Bryant, asked if his reaction was disbelief, said it was worse than that.
“Disbelief?” Bryant said. “Stunned.”
As for reaching in on someone going up for, as Fisher described it, “a one-legged running three-pointer,” that was off the charts.
It was a weird play with Fisher guarding Andre Miller, looking up to see Webster dribbling the ball almost into his lap, reaching in to try to get it, never thinking Webster would shoot from there...
Before the reach-in nightmare, but after the free-throw nightmare, Bryant and Fisher, comrades in hundreds of big games in 11 seasons together, trudged back to the bench during a timeout, commiserating with each other.
Or at least that’s what it looked like.
“I don’t know how many years you can go back and recall a situation where he’s missed two free throws in a row,” said Fisher of Bryant.
“And then for me to get an opportunity and miss a third one....
“Obviously, if he makes his, I’m not there, so it’s not about missing three or four free throws. It’s just something -- you have to laugh to keep from crying, you know?
“We were just ripping each other a little bit for squandering that opportunity.”
Keep that sense of humor, you’re going to need it.
Given the alarm around the Lakers before this, with speculation about Phil Jackson leaving, Phil losing the team, Bryant leaving, Bryant getting old, the possibility of trading Bryant for LeBron James, whether it’s too late to fire Phil, et al., I wouldn’t be surprised if there are Byron Scott sightings this week.
In real life, what, Phil worry?
Well, maybe a little.
“I see the pundits who sit in the studio on the NBA channel always say no one wants to play the Lakers,” said Jackson. “It appears to be that way, no team does want to take us on.
“Even though, if I was in their shoes, I might say, ‘Why not take on the Lakers first of all?’ ”
The hysteria, er, concern, shown by fans and the media is an ongoing issue in the Lakers’ dressing room, which Jackson says he has “addressed in many different ways, physically, mentally, emotionally.”
Better not forget virtually.
With no hiding from the Internet these days, the best bet is confiscating players’ cellphones, as Gen. Jack Ripper impounded all transistor radios on Burpelson Air Force Base before ordering his bombers to attack the Soviet Union in “Dr. Strangelove.”
Of course, there is always the chance that Andrew Bynum could return, Bryant could move his shooting percentage back over 40% and the Lakers could turn back into their once-feared selves.
No one in the West wants to play them, as San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich conceded last week and Portland Coach Nate McMillan conceded before Sunday’s game.
“They’re missing Bynum right now, but once playoff time comes, you know that switch is going to be on,” said McMillan.
“It’s not the team you want to face, but if you have to, you’ve got to.”
Not that it wouldn’t be reassuring for Lakerdom and the World Wide Wackos if the team had looked like its once-feared self recently, or at least since November.
There have been some awful weeks in Lakerdom: the Seven Days in May 2007 when Bryant raged at the organization from owner Jerry Buss down; the terrible days in July 2004, when they traded Shaquille O’Neal with no assurance from Bryant he intended to come back, which, in fact, he didn’t.
It will take some bizarre stuff to match that, but I have every confidence that everyone out there is up to it.