Just a couple of hours before it was time to ring in the year 2014, boos rained down on the Los Angeles Lakers from the Staples Center crowd.
There was even a smattering of "We want Phil!" chants as the final seconds ticked away in a 94-79 loss to the woeful Milwaukee Bucks.
The Bucks came in to that game with a league-worst 6-24 record. They had lost eight of their previous nine contests and would go on to lose the following nine as well.
Yet Milwaukee got out to a 14-0 lead and held the Lakers without a single point until the five minute mark of the opening frame, en route to L.A.'s sixth consecutive defeat—the latter three of which came against the NBA's three worst teams at the time.
After that brutal performance, it became apparent that there would be no redemption for the Lakers this season.
“You hope you don’t go any further than this. We’re struggling,” D'Antoni told Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News.
Lakers broadcaster James Worthy voiced his concern as well on Time Warner Cable SportsNet as the team walked into the locker room at halftime, having mustered just 23 first half points.
"This is ugly. It's getting worse. And they're playing like this at home," said Worthy on the Lakers' telecast (h/t Mike Bresnahan).
The question swirling around the minds of the Lakers' faithful is: Could this disaster have been averted?
And really, if we're being fair, it couldn't have.
Instead, L.A.'s brain trust opted to play out the string this season, trying to compete with the flotsam and jetsam of the league on the roster and angling to preserve their precious cap space for this summer.
Given how stacked the Western Conference looked on paper—not to mention being without franchise star Kobe Bryant to begin the year—it was clear that the Lakers were facing an uphill battle just to stay in the race for the eighth seed.
A surprising start to the season signaled some hope, as L.A. sat at 10-9 when they welcomed Bryant back into the fold, despite a heavily negative point differential. But the numbers finally caught up with the Lakers—as did the injuries.
So much for regression to the mean.
If you thought last season's injury epidemic couldn't possibly repeat itself, you were in for a rude awakening.
Six games after returning from his ruptured Achilles, Bryant went down again—this time with a fracture in his knee.
Not a single Laker has managed to play in all 53 games this season.
D'Antoni has trotted out 27 different starting lineups, the most in the league, and a whopping 11 players have started between five and 16 games this year.
Los Angeles' leader in total assists, Kendall Marshall, hasn't even played in half of the team's games.
As a matter of fact, Marshall wasn't even on the roster until a week before Christmas!
The roster was cut down in such a devastating way that in a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers last week, the Lakers had to keep Robert Sacre on the court after he had fouled out of the game because they had no substitutes able to take his place.
After winning their first game sans Bryant to get to 13-13, the Lakers entered the six-game slide that culminated with that embarrassing loss to the Bucks on New Year's Eve.
And that was just the beginning.
That six-game skid began a tailspin that saw L.A. lose 19 out of 22 games.
Now at 18-35 overall, the Lakers are tied for last in the conference, 13 games behind the current No. 8 seed.
Their season is effectively over, but it's not any one person's fault that they've arrived at this dismal destination.
Certainly you can't pin it on D'Antoni. He's had absolutely nothing to work with.
The Lakers head man has had to piece together lineups out of scraps like Marshall, Ryan Kelly, Shawne Williams and Robert Sacre—guys who wouldn't be in the rotation for any other team in the league.
Injuries have decimated the squad for a second straight season. And this time they don't have the star power in the lineup to make up the deficit.
There's no changing the outcome for this campaign. All the Lakers can hope for now is a friendly bounce of the ping pong balls in the 2014 draft lottery.
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