LOS ANGELES — If Oklahoma City and L.A. meet in the Western Conference playoffs this season, Staples Center will be the focus of the NBA world.
Maybe the Lakers will be able to get great seats and enjoy watching the Clippers and Thunder do battle to see who might represent the West in the NBA Finals.
Because if the Lakers’ recent bad play is an accurate gauge of their true abilities, the 16-time champions will be on the outside looking in when the postseason arrives.
Kevin Durant broke down the Laker defense for 42 points on 16-of-25 shooting to lead the Thunder to a 116-101 win Friday night at Staples Center — the sixth straight loss for the 15-21 Lakers.
Russell Westbrook had 27 points and 10 assists, and Kevin Martin came off the bench to score 15 points for 28-8 OKC, which raised it’s road record to 10-5.
Durant said the Thunder came into the game intent on shutting down the Lakers from the beginning.
“We didn’t want the Lakers turning their season around on us with a win,” said the defending scoring champion. “We came out and played up to our high standards, and we were not going to let up until we got the win.”
The Lakers have now lost six straight for the first time since March 2-15, 2007. They’re also just 10-9 at home.
Kobe Bryant scored 28 points but shot a horrible 8-of-23 from the field, and the Lakers defense was non-existent once again, allowing the Thunder to make 51percent of their shots. The Lakers also gave up 56 points in the paint, many of them easy baskets with big men Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill out with injuries.
Hill — who’s been one of the few bright spots for the Lakers — got some bad news prior to Friday’s game. An exam by team doctors showed not only a possible torn labrum in his left hip, but loose bone fragments as well. Surgery was recommended, and Hill was reportedly going to seek a second opinion before going under the knife. After the game, however, he said he definitely will have the surgery and should be recovered in six months — still, he’d be done for the season.
One of the Lakers who plays with enthusiasm and heart each time he steps on the floor, Hill was devastated by the diagnosis.
“It hit me hard — it’s still hitting me right now,” Hill told reporters. “I like to go out there and play hard and help my teammates, now there’s nothing I can do.”
Bryant said the Lakers will definitely be missing something special with Hill on the bench, “but I feel bad for Jordan from a personal standpoint. He works hard and he’s become a big part of this team, and he gets hurt. It’s frustrating for us and I’m sure really frustrating for him.”
One player who may ease the frustration is Earl Clark. The 6-foot-9 forward — who had been an afterthought all season — has been a revelation since all the bigs got hurt. Friday night he put together his second straight double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds against OKC, and is ready to take over Hill’s minutes if the coaching staff calls on him.
“I’m ready,” said the fourth-year reserve from Louisville. “I’m come to play every night and I just want to keep going out there and helping us win.”
Right now, though, he’ll have to settle for just getting some playing time, because the Lakers aren’t winning — or even showing signs of turning things around.
1. Lakers great and Dodger owner Magic Johnson was at it once again during his TV duties, saying the Lakers are done and won’t be making the playoffs.
Bryant responded by saying: “I’m sure he’s not in the minority” in feeling that way. And Bryant says he’ll never give up as long as they have a chance.
“I’m way too stubborn for that,” Kobe said.
And I agree with Bryant on this one. Until Bryant, Howard, Gasol and Steve Nash can play together — and be relatively healthy — for 20 games in a row, you can’t really assess how good this team can be. It’s easy to judge how bad it can be without those guys; you’re seeing it right now. But unless the Big Four get healthy, play together and stay together, we may never know how effective this team can be.
2. Lakers’ VP of Basketball Operations Jim Buss went on the team’s flagship radio station Thursday and said he’s not frustrated with the team’s performance, because with all the injuries, this isn’t the team he and GM Mitch Kupchak put together during the summer.
Again, I agree. But he should be really frustrated — no, upset — with the constant lack of effort and heart shown by many of his players. Even if/when the Big Four are healthy and playing together again, if the rest of the roster doesn’t give a full effort every game, the Lakers will be lucky to make it to the playoffs — and even luckier to win a single game.
3. Attention Mike D’Antoni: On Friday night, Antawn Jamison — the guy you buried at the end of the bench — had 19 points and 10 rebounds, two assists and a steal in 31 minutes of play. Can you please explain again why you won’t play the career 19-point per game scorer more than you do? On a bad team that needs his production?