LOS ANGELES – If your Lakers season tickets are up for renewal…
If you’re contemplating leaving Dish Network to watch the Lakers’ games on a cable or satellite provider that has them…
If your parents or friends are diehard Lakers fans and make you watch their team just a few times on the big stages…
It bolsters a global but fledgling brand, it positively reinforces those fans who’ve stuck through so much more thin than thick and it reminds everyone that whether it’s some journeyman named Jodie or a legend named Kobe, there’s inspiration and downright fun to be found.
“If you play hard, you need to be rewarded every once in a while,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said afterward.
If you root hard, you need it, too.
After the most lopsided loss in franchise history in the Lakers’ last home game Thursday night against the Clippers, this bounce back was remarkable. The Lakers were down by 18 points midway through the second quarter, up by 18 points early in the fourth quarter—and barely held on against Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
It was so impressive that the Lakers might actually sell one or two of those really ugly “Los Lakers” sleeved shirts they wore for a special NBA promotion.
But it was seriously the sort of game that matters more in a figurative sense. It was the Lakers’ only post-All-Star home Sunday ABC game, an event that was par for the course every week in past springs during the glory days.
Remarkably, it continued this trend in a forgettable season whereby the Lakers put smiles on their fans’ faces in the games that matter most to them.
If you went through the schedule before the season and marked off the games the Lakers would most want to win, you’d have chosen many of the ones they actually have won.
Opening night against the Clippers, the first game against Dwight Howard after he refused to stay, the hated Celtics in both Boston and L.A., this ABC showcase against a Thunder team expected to win the West.
The Lakers certainly didn’t deliver in all the big games. There was still Christmas against LeBron James, Howard’s first game back at Staples against the Lakers and Kobe Bryant’s much-anticipated return game against the Toronto Raptors.
The Lakers did, however, win what likely will loom as Bryant’s last game of the season—the game Dec. 17 in Memphis that he can use, same as those flat-footed free throws in victory over the Golden State Warriors last April, as a building block for his next comeback.
Meeks was actually very Kobe-like with his motor against the Thunder, taking a season that has seen him be D’Antoni’s “most consistent performer” and blowing away his previous career high of 26 points with 42. D’Antoni also heralded Meeks’ defense against Westbrook, who was totally off his game until the fourth quarter.
Meeks scoring so much without dominating the ball the way Bryant often does was also key, according to D’Antoni, who said sharing the ball on offense created a spirit that “came out on the defensive end.”
Meeks’ level of caring has been one of the constants in this losing Lakers season; Pau Gasol described him after this game as a guy who “competes, no matter what.” But Gasol also noted accurately that this was a game that uncommonly connected the team with its fans.
With an early afternoon tipoff right after Daylight Savings time erased another hour of rest, it was the Lakers’ fifth game in seven days. The fatigue factor was real—yet ultimately not costly.
“We allowed the crowd to get into the game,” said Gasol, recognizing the crowd’s “great energy” created an overall result that allowed him to declare he was “proud of this game.”
Losing by 48 to the Clippers and then winning this one?
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Gasol said. “But we’re happy about today—and move on for tomorrow.”
That holds true even more for the Lakers’ fanbase than the players.