The loss at the end of the road trip showed that whatever ails the Lakers, isn't close to being cured.
By JOE McDONNELLFS West
Well, at least the
Lakers have one fan left in rapper Lil' Wayne, who was in Miami to watch them try to finish their road trip with a flourish by beating the World Champion Heat.
Like the struggling Lakers, he didn't stick around for the end.
Lil' Wayne tweeted that he was tossed at halftime by Heat security for rooting vociferously for "my team." (Security said he left on his own). His favorite team, though, didn't have any excuse for once again losing a game in the final quarter — except for the fact that they're just not a very good basketball team.
The 107-97 loss to Miami bookended the road trip in disappointing efforts, and left the Lakers with a mediocre 4-3 record on their annual Grammy trip.
During the loss in Phoenix to start the seven-game trip, they controlled the first 40 minutes of the game, and then lost Dwight Howard to a re-aggravation of his torn shoulder labrum. They also lost their will to win, allowing the last-place Suns to overcome a 13-point deficit and beat the Lakers 92-86.
With a playoff spot on the line every night — at least for now — it was a galling loss to the worst team in the conference. And you can be sure that a game or two will decide the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.
The next three games were all wins and it seemed that even without the injured Howard things were beginning a permanent turnaround. As usual in this crazy season, it was a basketball mirage.
The Lakers derailed themselves — again — when they arrived in Boston to take on their hated archrivals, the Celtics.
You of course know by now that Kobe Bryant put Howard on the spot by telling ESPN.com it was urgent that the injured center plays, even if Dwight wasn't 100 percent healthy. That prompted D12 to question Bryant's medical expertise, and to point out that it was his career and that only he would have to live with the ramifications of another injury should he return too soon.
More drama led to another beating — 116-95 at the hands of the Celtics — despite the fact that Howard did play 28 minutes with nine points and nine rebounds. Nothing seems to shake the Laker lethargy.
A near loss to the pathetic Charlotte Bobcats on Friday and Sunday's defeat in Miami show that whatever ails the Lakers isn't close to being cured. Now, even one player's father has joined the chorus of Mike D'Antoni doubters.
Dwight Howard Sr. told the Atlanta Journal Constitution the problems between his son and Bryant — which both deny exist — is because D'Antoni hasn't interceded in any dispute.
"The problem is the coach," the elder Howard charged. "(D'Antoni) needs to step in and say, 'You guys have got to be quiet. We're trying to secure something here.' Dwight is probably looking at the coach, thinking, 'What are you going to do?' I promise, if that had been (former Magic coach) Stan Van Gundy, that wouldn't have happened. (Howard) wouldn't have been admonished publicly. I think the coach has a lot to do with who controls Kobe's mouth right now."
Bryant responded by not responding. "I'm done with it," he said before the game with the Heat. And D'Antoni continues to unemotionally watch the Laker season circle the drain, saying about his team: "We're good. That's cool," saying that Bryant and Howard already worked things out.
Well, coach, apparently not.
If a player's dad starts speaking publicly about inner workings of the team, the tensions that have been present ever since training camp appear to be ready to explode into a storm of even more controversy.
Dwight Jr. denied that he'd spoken to his dad about the state of the locker room, but it only makes sense to think he's at least intimated to Sr. that there is trouble between Bryant and himself. Even if he hasn't gone in-depth, I'm sure Howard's father knows his son as well or better than anyone else on the planet. And Superman may have found his Kryptonite: Kobe's style of playing and D'Antoni's method of coaching.
It's inexcusable that with the Lakers' only other true big man — Pau Gasol — out indefinitely with a foot injury, Howard manages to get just 24 shots in the three games since he returned. How D'Antoni can continue to let this happen is mind-boggling.
Howard shoots a high percentage — his career mark is .577 — and he can score against any interior defender in the NBA. With Gasol out, Metta World Peace invisible for the last month and the bench being inconsistent, the coaching staff needs to tell Bryant and Steve Nash to get the ball to Howard in the post as often as they can. It's the only thing they really haven't tried this season. Maybe it will work. Overall it can't get much worse.
Well, maybe it can, because there is a much bigger picture coming into focus.
Free-agent-to-be Howard has consistently refused to talk about where he'll play next season, even though his father told the AJC he thinks his son will re-sign with L.A. That situation should be in the forefront for the Laker front office and coaching staff, just behind trying to make the playoffs.
The original plan formulated by General Manager Mitch Kupchak and his staff was to trade for Chris Paul and Howard, have them play a couple years with Kobe and then lead the team into the future when Bryant retires.
The Paul deal went south when Commissioner David Stern vetoed it, and if the Lakers don't make things more attractive for Howard — on and off the court — he might be the next player to disappear.
Then the Lakers will be forced to confront a future that doesn't include Howard, Paul, Bryant and probably Gasol. A future that will leave them stuck on 16 championships for a very long time.