The Los Angeles Lakers fell to the New Orleans Pelicans by a final score of 104-87 on Sunday night, but they might have lost something far more valuable than a game in the process.
They may have lost the fans.
It was just one contest in what's shaping up to be a very, very long season, but when the boos cascaded down from the Staples Center rafters at the end of the third quarter (with the Lakers trailing by 20) and then again after the contest mercifully ended, the message was clear.
Angelenos were fed up, and they showed it in disgusted unity, with full-throated frustration and disdain, as pointed out by ESPN NBA's Baxter Holmes:
Even worse, the Lakers felt they'd earned the harsh treatment. Nick Young described them as "well-deserved," per Serena Winters of Lakers Nation:
Breaking the spirit of Nick Young, a man who has worked tirelessly to craft an image of laid-back, goofy confidence, is no easy thing. That's how you know the boos hit home.
The Lakers weren't supposed to be this bad. Not according to the devout. Not according to the Kobe Bryant acolytes who, even this year, have apologized for his one-man mission that has sapped confidence from teammates and answers from Byron Scott.
It's hard to know what made this particular Lakers effort the one that turned the mob, that pushed the previously patient past the point of no return.
Maybe it was the way L.A., already the NBA's worst defensive team, fell apart on offense. For Eric Pinchus of the Los Angeles Times, the Lakers' performance on offense was concerning:
Maybe it was Anthony Davis making everything look easy, scoring 23 points and grabbing six boards with casual flair.
Maybe it was hometown kid Jrue Holiday getting loose for 22 points, eight assists and four rebounds against a Lakers defense that couldn't keep him from getting anywhere he wanted.
Maybe it was the fact that Scott's lineup switcheroo, in which Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer were demoted from the first unit in favor of Ronnie Price and Ed Davis, didn't make an impact. After all, everybody—Lakers fans and right-thinking hoops followers everywhere—had been clamoring for Davis to get time ahead of C-Booze.
Watching Davis finally get his shot and still be such an afterthought as to only see six field-goal attempts had to sting. Bryant, through it all, continued to dominate possessions, while everyone else stood around and let him.
Kobe toiled with the same defiant passion as always, fighting for inches and needing 18 shots to tally 14 points. The Pelicans knew what was coming and were fully prepared to stop it, a sentiment echoed in Jrue Holiday's comments, via Silver Screen & Roll:
The Lakers, as per usual, didn't have a backup plan.
What the Lakers have had this season is surprising unity. We've heard rumblings of dissatisfaction about Bryant's domineering ways, but they've never been loud or explicit. And for a team that now has just five wins in 21 games, we've seen surprisingly little disharmony in the locker room...yet.
Scott's lineup changes might already be causing problems.
Lin was professional but unhappy about his benching, per Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:
He finished with just three points on 1-of-5 shooting. His replacement, Price, had three points on 1-of-4 shooting.
Boozer didn't say anything about switching roles, according to Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding, which almost feels worse:
The Lakers are 1-14 against Western Conference foes and 5-16 overall. For devout followers of the team who thought Kobe, some vets and a little faith would see them through, painful reality is pouring from the sky right now.
Just like the boos at Staples.
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For Celtics, Three Really Is a Magic Number
If the Boston Celtics' 101-93 win over the Wiz were a Sesame Street episode, it definitely would have been sponsored by the No. 3.
The Celts notched their third straight victory behind a huge trifecta from Avery Bradley and double-figure production in three stat categories (that's a triple-double, folks!) from Rajon Rondo.
Bradley canned the pivotal trey from the right corner to put Boston up 97-93 with 37 ticks left, staving off a furious fourth-quarter rally from the Wizards. And Rondo's 13 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists gave him his 31st career triple-double.
If you'd like to stretch the "three" theme further, Boston spoiled this season's first homecoming for Paul Pierce, easily one of the greatest 3s in Celtics history.
For an encore, the Celtics will try to pull off the home-and-home sweep when they head to Washington to do battle with the Wizards again on Monday. A win in that game would make it four in a row for Boston, a feat it accomplished just once last season and a marker of real progress in the ongoing rebuild.
"We’re growing," Rondo told reporters after the win. "In the past couple games, games where we blew the leads and lost the game, today they made a run but we stayed solid, stayed confident and made plays."
Makrys is Greek for Long
If you're unclear on the pronunciation, simply keep this clip of Giannis Antetokounmpo handy. The impossibly rangy stretch from the Milwaukee Bucks' ceiling-less forward in Sunday's 125-102 loss to the Dallas Mavericks will break down any language barrier.
He turned 20 on Sunday, by the way.
Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 18 points, but he couldn't keep his team in the game against a hard-charging Mavs team that has now won seven of its last 10.
Atlanta Is Streaking
A nearly error-free first half gave the Atlanta Hawks the cushion they needed to hold off the Denver Nuggets and Wilson Chandler's season-high 29 points on Monday. Atlanta turned it over just once in the the first 24 minutes of action, and the 96-84 final score gave it six straight wins—keeping pace with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the longest unbeaten string in the East.
The Hawks got 23 points from Paul Millsap and held the Nuggets to 36.6 percent shooting from the field. It was a thorough victory, in keeping with the way Atlanta has been throttling opponents of late, as noted by Hawks PR (via Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution):
This is a run poised to continue, as Atlanta's next four contests include the Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers and a back-to-back set against the Orlando Magic. If things keep going like they have, we could be talking about a 10-0 surge for a Hawks team that still hasn't seen Al Horford rediscover his vintage form.
There were some promising glimpses in this one, though:
Just one-and-a-half games behind everybody's favorite East surprise, the Toronto Raptors, the Hawks could find themselves atop the conference later this week.
Reality Hits Heat Hard
Four straight runs to the NBA Finals can spoil a team. The Miami Heat, fresh off another loss to a squad clearly sitting a notch above them in the league hierarchy, are starting to realize how different things are nowadays. Bosh expressed how being in this position causes him to appreciate past accomplishments more, per Jason Lieser of The Palm Beach Post:
Clearly, the 103-87 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies—in which Marc Gasol and Co. shot 58.9 percent from the field—raised some urgency—and frustration, per Bosh's comments, via Lieser:
And Jon Leuer simply raised up, scoring a career-high 20 points to go along with 12 rebounds off the bench. He was also responsible for driving home the point of Memphis' superiority in the fourth quarter:
The Heat have now lost to the Grizzlies, Washington Wizards, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers and Atlanta Hawks—all teams residing in the league's upper echelon...which is where the Heat used to be.
Now, there's this, per Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel:
Westbrook and OKC Drop the Hammer on Detroit
In what can only be described as a game full of mixed signals, the Oklahoma City Thunder got big nights from Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant en route to a 96-94 win. The problem: They needed both of their stars playing well to beat the nosediving Detroit Pistons.
KD tossed up 28 points, four assists, four rebounds and a huge three to extend the lead to four with two minutes remaining. Westbrook chimed in with 22 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.
The loss was Detroit's 12th in a row, a figure that'll almost certainly grow with five consecutive Western Conference foes coming up on its schedule.
Enough chatter. Here's what we all came to see: Russ throwing caution for his busted hand to the wind:
OKC's getting there, folks. Slowly but surely. You've been warned.
Distractions Welcome in NYC
We could spend this space talking about how the New York Knicks, having dropped a 103-99 decision to the Portland Trail Blazers, are now losers of eight in a row and 15 of their last 17. We could canvas the ongoing issues with the triangle offense and how New York's struggles to execute it (or defend) down the stretch have made it uniquely vulnerable in close games. Or, we could simply take a look at some disappointing team stats provided by The Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring:
We could even praise the Blazers for quietly winning nine out of 10 and climbing into a second-place tie in the West.
We could do all those things, but LeBron James was courtside at Madison Square Garden, and that's all anybody cared about, courtesy of the NBA's official Twitter account:
At least he diverted attention from the smoldering wreckage of the Knicks for a night.