The Los Angeles Lakers' disastrous 2012-13 season appears to have taken yet another devastating hit on Friday night.
Top reserve big man Jordan Hill was one of three Lakers post players to leave Sunday's 112-105 loss to the Denver Nuggets. Hill's hip forced his departure, while Pau Gasol (concussion) and Dwight Howard (torn labrum) had their own early exits.
Rookie Robert Sacre and seldom-used forwards Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark were suddenly thrust into Mike D'Antoni's rotation. With his makeshift frontcourt, D'Antoni's team has since dropped two consecutive games.
Hill's time frame for return broke earlier than either Howard's or Gasol's.
And the news was not what the Lakers had been hoping to hear:
LAL got some bad news on Jordan Hill: further tests on his hip revealed that he'll need surgery, & will be out for the rest of the season.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) January 12, 2013
Trudell's report was shocking, but perhaps a tad premature.
The death sentence handed down to his 2012-13 regular season was just the first opinion he was given, but he'll reportedly seek out more feedback:
Jordan Hill will seek a second opinion, according to his agent Kevin Bradbury.— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) January 12, 2013
No matter where he'll turn for that second opinion, it sounds as if Hill's hopes for a return are just as fleeting as his team's postseason hopes:
An arthrogram test today on Jordan Hill's left hip showed loose fragments in addition to a possible labral tear.— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) January 12, 2013
The Lakers' first game sans their frontcourt big three proved disheartening to each of the replacements. But the fourth-year Clark emerged as either the team's most viable interior candidate, or at least its most recent recipient of magic in a bottle, when he scorched the San Antonio Spurs with 22 points and 13 rebounds in his 27 minutes.
Prior to this week, Clark's season-high workload was the 11 minutes he logged in an early December loss to the Houston Rockets.
Suddenly, he's shouldered the responsibility of realizing the Lakers' lingering postseason pipe dreams:
Jordan Hill out for the season. It's on you Earl Clark.— chris palmer (@ESPNChrisPalmer) January 12, 2013
Clearly the Lakers aren't hedging all of their bets on Clark. The front office has already spent too much money to do that.
While Clark may be the key to the club's immediate future, the long-term responsibilities lie right where they did just a week ago:
Without Hill, the pressure isn't simply on Clark to step up, but Howard and (particularly) Gasol to perform, and MD to adjust. BK— Kamenetzky Brothers (@KamBrothers) January 12, 2013
D'Antoni clearly hasn't figured out how to utilize either of his big men. This should have been expected, even with the front office's narrow focus on the coach's past success with point guard Steve Nash.
He's never had a post scorer as talented as either of these two—and appears in no rush to have one now.
He has miscast Gasol as a stretch 4 despite his paltry 41.6 and 30.4 shooting percentages (from the field and three-point land, respectively). And he's done so despite repeated pleas from Gasol and Kobe Bryant for Gasol's move back to the interior (you know, the area he dominated during his four All-Star seasons).
And without a premier perimeter attack (their 35.5 three-point percentage ranks 14th in the league), D'Antoni has failed to create enough space for Howard to operate near the basket. Of course, it doesn't help that Howard's play has been marred by the lingering effects of his April 2012 back surgery.
With just 15 wins in their first 35 games, the Lakers will need a .638 winning percentage from now until the end of the season just to reach the 45-win mark that may or may not be enough for a punched playoff ticket in the deep Western Conference.
And given that the team has faced just the 19th-toughest schedule in the league (according to ESPN.com), the Lakers will need to find a drastic reversal of fortune against superior competition.
Who would have thought the offseason's crowned champions would already be this close to a fruitless season?
Then again, who could have predicted that a Jordan Hill injury could be the season-deciding blow?