The Los Angeles Lakers put up a fight against the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night and went down swinging. Nick Young was ejected during the second quarter, leaving a shorthanded squad to do battle—it felt like a microcosm of the entire season to date.
Phoenix jumped out to an early lead before Young got hot, scoring nine points in 11 minutes off the bench. Swaggy P may have got too fired up when he tried to dunk over Alex Len. Young got hit in the face and went to the floor—he popped back up and the fracas was on. As pleasantries were exchanged, Goran Dragic attempted to offer an opinion, prompting Young to swing at his head. The festivities ended with both Young and Len getting tossed.
Apparently, Young was a bit miffed that nobody from his side jumped into the scrum. Perhaps he didn't notice Ryan Kelly in the mix.
Nick Young says he's disappointed his teammates didn't back him up. Said he was "one on five" out there.— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) January 16, 2014
Losing your leading scorer doesn't necessarily help a 14-25 team facing one with a 22-16 record. Still, spurred by Young's ejection, the Lakers went on an 18-6 run fueled largely by three-pointers—one each from Jodie Meeks and Ryan Kelly and two from Kendall Marshall, who also had 13 assists for the night.
Pau Gasol, who was nursing a sore foot, also scored a key bucket during the run on an assist from Marshall. The Lakers ended the first half with a lead, 58-54.
Phoenix came back with a strong third quarter, thanks to a hot shooting hand from Gerald Green, who wound up with a season-high 28 points. The Lakers managed to tie it up in the fourth quarter off a pair of free throws from Chris Kaman. The Suns would go on to win, however, 121-114.
Kaman had one his best games as a Laker, finishing with 18 points off the bench. He's got as good a reason to fight as anybody—it was widely assumed that the former All-Star would have a meaningful role when he was signed last summer, and it simply hasn’t happened.
Per Ramona Shelburne for ESPN Los Angeles, Kaman has stopped trying to figure it out:
Never did I think I would come here and not play, otherwise I probably wouldn't have come. I had a bunch of other options, but I saw opportunity here. It's not really in my control. I just try to keep working hard and be ready if the time comes.
Kaman’s situation is just one of a myriad of perplexing factors this season. Kobe Bryant’s epic journey back from a brutal Achilles injury went awry when he fractured his shin just six games after returning. Steve Nash has also played just six games this season while Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar and Xavier Henry have missed a combined 43 games.
The Lakers could have used Shawne Williams during Wednesday night’s battle. The swingman has been praised by D'Antoni for his toughness and was a key part of his rotation, averaging 20 minutes per game. Williams was recently waived however, right before his veteran’s minimum salary would have become fully guaranteed.
The Lakers have now lost six in a row and are 1-12 in their last 13 games. The loss against the Suns marks the beginning of their annual Grammy road trip with seven stops in 11 nights.
Per Dave McMenamin for ESPN Los Angeles, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni was hoping for the best before the game. When asked for a road prediction, he responded as follows:
I hate to do that, in the sense of you don't want to say, "OK, that game we can't win," You try to win them all. But, at the same time, realistically, we'd like to have a winning record coming off of it. But, it starts with us and we have to do a better job.
The loss to the Suns shows that there’s still desire there—even though the team appears to be heading toward the abyss. The Lakers play hard some nights and not so hard on others. There are some good individual performances but little consistency. Moments like Young’s ejection can sometimes light a fire under a team, but unfortunately for the Lakers, there are simply not enough guns to go around right now.
And so it goes with this season’s Purple and Gold—a proud and storied franchise that can still put up a fight now and then, but too often, winds up on the mat.