It's Panic Time for Laker Nation

Jimmy SpencerNBA Lead WriterApril 7, 2013

The purple and gold panic button is about as worn down as the tormented smirk of Mike D’Antoni.

The Los Angeles Lakers failed in a game they couldn’t spare, a 109-95 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday. The Clippers’ victory, emblematic as it gets, resulted in the franchise’s first Pacific Division title in its history.

Then there’s the Lakers, once again drowning in a chorus of sinking-ship rhetoric.

With the loss, the Lakers fall a half-game behind the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. The Jazz, who defeated the Golden State Warriors 97-90 on Sunday, also own the tiebreaker, so the Lakers once again no longer control their destiny.

And, of course, Lakers nation is already plunging off that traditional deck of fickleness.

Just about everyone not named Kobe Bryant is being thrown overboard, but none more so than the captain.

D’Antoni is the second scapegoat to bat tomatoes away from his face this season. Since taking over for Mike Brown, D’Antoni never pieced together the enigma that is the talented but underperforming Lakers.

The team still can’t defend, and it seems that too much weight has been placed on the shoulders of Bryant, as brilliant as he’s been. The loss to the Clippers showed just that.

In Sunday's loss, Bryant nearly had a triple-double with 25 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds. He wasn't efficient, looking to do it all on 6-of-19 shooting.

Dwight Howard wasn't enough on Sunday. He has averaged 17.3 points and 14.5 rebounds per game since the All-Star break and his defense has looked dramatically improved.

But while Howard was efficient offensively with 25 points against the Clippers, somehow he only managed four total rebounds; the Lakers cannot afford that kind of output. Steve Nash has rarely been special this season, and he sat with a strained right hamstring.

In the 82-game balance of wins and losses, the Lakers are again trending downward.

Expectations of superteam success won't be reached. This team was built to win a championship, and failing to make the postseason would be an embarrassment to the franchise and its fan base.

But Bryant's ego, or at least his self-willed desire, isn't letting up.

And neither is D'Antoni's.

Here's the final stretch:

Lakers' Remaining Schedule

 Jazz's Remaining Schedule

April 9 vs. New Orleans Hornets
Record against: 3-0 against

April 9 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Record against: 1-2 against
April 10 at Portland Trail Blazers
Record against: 2-1 against
April 12 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
Record against: 2-0 against
April 12 vs. Golden State Warriors
Record against: 2-1 against
April 15 at Minnesota Timberwolves
Record against: 2-0 against
April 14 vs. San Antonio Spurs
Record against: 0-2 against
April 17 at Memphis Grizzlies
Record against: 1-2 against

April 17 vs. Houston Rockets
Record against: 1-2 against

The Lakers could struggle to go 4-1 or even 3-2 the rest of the way, and that may be what it takes to reach the postseason. Wins against New Orleans (3-0 against) and Portland (2-1 against) are probable, but the finish against Golden State (2-1 against), San Antonio and Houston will be difficult.

The Jazz play a tough home game versus Oklahoma City. If the Lakers win two, and the Jazz lose that game, the Lakers could pull back ahead before their final three games.

But the advantage then swings back to the Jazz, as they face Minnesota in back-to-back games before playing the Grizzlies. Memphis, depending on its postseason standing, may decide to rest players on that final night of the season.

Even if the Lakers do sneak into the playoffs, it's not a promising endeavor from that point. They are now 14-26 against teams with records of .500 and above.

A first-round matchup against either the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder would be a mismatch that even Bryant's heroics couldn't overcome, regardless of what Lakers fans may think. Los Angeles has lost both games against San Antonio this season; the depth of the Spurs would overpower, as would the coaching of Gregg Popovich.

But it's not about the Spurs. After Sunday's loss to the Clippers, the focus returns to making the postseason, not what happens if they get there.

In the land of Lakers opinion, the pendulum has swung back to "OK, now it's over" yet again.

At least for a few more hours.