SAN DIEGO, CA — Well, it’s over. Mercifully. The exhibition season has come to an end and the Lakers wound up with a miserable 0-8 record, following a 94-82 loss to the Sacramento Kings at Valley View Casino Center on Thursday night.
The Lakers were the only team to go the entire preseason without a victory.
It never was about the win-loss record, though. It was about a revamped team learning each other’s tendencies and getting ready for the grueling 82-game run that will determine seeding for the 2013 playoffs.
Kobe Bryant would learn to play in the Princeton offense with Steve Nash, who would learn to play with Dwight Howard, who would learn how Antawn Jamison will complement Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace.
It was supposed to be a lot of things. It turned out to be nothing but a compilation of more questions than answers and an injury that could keep Bryant out of the season opener Tuesday night against Dallas at Staples Center.
Bryant missed the final two preseason games with a strained and bruised right foot. Coach Mike Brown said he really isn’t sure about his superstar’s availability for the Lakers’ first meaningful contest since getting knocked out of last year’s playoffs in five games by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Bryant didn’t even make the short trip to San Diego. His foot is hurting enough that he has to have intensive treatment — including rest and elevation — in hopes of securing his availability Tuesday night.
“It’s bad enough that he has to keep his foot elevated at times,” Brown told the media. “And I don’t know right now what his [status] is for the opener. We’ll take it day by day and hope for the best.”
If Bryant does play against the Dirk Nowitzki-less Mavericks — and his ability to play with pain and perform well is legendary — it certainly won’t solve the issue that L.A. still has a long, long way to go in order to fulfill its self-appointed destiny.
Nothing but a championship is ever enough for the Lakers and their fans, and right now this is anything but a sure-fire winner. On paper they look great. Paper is thin, though, and currently so is the Lakers’ play.
They’ve committed 63 turnovers in their last three games, including 21 against the Kings Thursday night. Their point differential is an astounding -15.3 per game, the worst in the NBA. Charlotte is next on that list, but not half as bad; the Bobcats’ differential is -7.0 per game.
While installing the vaunted Princeton offense, the Lakers have proven to be the league’s lowest scoring team, averaging just 85.9 points per game.
Is this a temporary condition? Most likely.
Howard looks to be completely healthy, and Nash almost certainly will play like the greatest point guard of his generation. Bryant will be Bryant, injuries or not. But there’s more to winning titles than a roster loaded with future Hall of Famers.
Remember the 2003-04 Lakers? Shaquille O’Neal, Bryant, Karl Malone and Gary Payton populated the squad, and the Lakers did get to the Finals against Detroit. But injuries to the aging Malone ruined any chance for another championship, and the Detroit Pistons eliminated them in five games.
It was such a crushing blow that coach Phil Jackson retired for a season, the Lakers traded O’Neal and let Derek Fisher move to Golden State as a free agent. Unfulfilled expectations can rock the very foundation of a franchise. And no team has ever lost all eight preseason games and made it to the NBA Finals.
So, the Lakers already have a majestic goal staring them right in their collective faces.
Another one might be to cut their turnovers by about a third and maybe learn the new offense a little bit more swiftly.
For Bryant, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace and Steve Blake, this will be the third offense they’ve played in the last three years. Continuity usually is one of the keys to winning a championship.
Maybe Brown knows something the rest of us don’t, but it would seem that letting Nash freelance with the ball as often as possible and running a lot of pick-and-rolls would be the best way to use his new weaponry.
Imagine Kobe, Dwight and Gasol filling the passing lanes on a fast break. Or Nash and Gasol becoming the latter day pick-and-rollers, a la John Stockton and Malone while they were together in Utah.
“We’ve got some time and we’re going to keep working at it,” Brown said, convinced that his new offense is the right one for the Lakers.
Howard didn’t seem quite as enthralled after the Lakers’ eighth consecutive defeat.
“It’s hard to learn a new offense,” the All-Star center said. “Remember, we’re playing for June, not the preseason. By the All-Star Game, hopefully we’ll have learned most of the offense.”
All-Star Game? If they haven’t gotten it down by Tuesday, it probably won’t take long for Laker fans to learn to call for Brown’s dismissal.