On Wednesday night, the Chicago Bulls put a halt to the Miami Heat’s 27-game winning streak, the second best winning streak in NBA history next to the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers’ 33-game winning streak. Meanwhile, the Lakers of today were trying to break their own streak—an unforgivable one at that—an inability to win pairs of games played on consecutive nights this season.
Heading into their third contest of a four-game road trip on Thursday evening, the Lakers were 0-14 on back-to-back sets. After escaping with a 120-117 victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday, they were hoping to ride the momentum of the win and break the dishonorable 0-14 blemish against the Milwaukee Bucks.
And so it happened—just like the previous 14 times the Lakers played the second game of a back-to-back—they succumbed to the Bucks 113-103, pushing that seemingly indelible record to 0-15.
It certainly didn’t start disastrous for the Lakers in the first 24 minutes of the contest. The backcourt duo of Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash scored 29 points on 8-of-15 shooting. Los Angeles went up by as many as 13 and held a scant, but buildable three-point lead at halftime.
Regrettably, the same familiar issues that have marred the Lakers’ 2012-13 season resurfaced in the second half—turnovers and deplorable defense. They turned the ball over 10 times in the last 24 minutes, giving them 18 turnovers for the night. The Lakers let the Bucks shoot 53.2 percent in the second half and gave up 60 points.
After the Bucks took a five-point lead at the end of the third quarter, Bryant and his Jedi-like will to win tried to bring the Lakers back into contention, but the force wasn’t sufficient. He finished with 30 points, but it came on just 6-of-17 from the field.
The Bucks had a 12-point lead with just under two minutes remaining in regulation and the back-to-back bugaboos returned to haunt the Lakers. They showed their age, fourth oldest in the league with an average player age of 29.1 years, by huffing and puffing, but unable to blow past the second half with the same zeal as the first.
“We’re looking our age a little bit,” admitted Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni.
The propensity for injuries increases with age and for the Lakers, the list of ailments mounted. Nash, who finished with 16 points and six assists, left the game at the 5:13 mark of the third quarter and did not return.
“I got a spasm in my hip and a (sore) hamstring,” explained Nash.
Nash apparently wanted to re-enter the contest, but was advised otherwise by Coach D’Antoni and trainer Gary Vitti, warning him that it could cause long-term damage.
The injury news was compounded by word of Bryant suffering from a bothersome bone spur on his left foot. He was apparently seen leaving the BMO Harris Bradley Center with the assistance of a crutch.
“Inflamed on me. I’ll be all right,” Bryant told Yahoo! Sports.
Of course, this news comes just after forward Metta World Peace underwent successful surgery on Thursday after he was diagnosed with a torn lateral meniscus on his left knee on Wednesday. World Peace is expected to be out for a minimum of six weeks, which would rule him out for the rest of the Lakers’ season.
As far as a postseason is concerned, the Lakers are hanging on to the eighth playoff spot the way they’re hanging on to their youth—with their fingertips. They are only a half game ahead of the Utah Jazz and 1.5 games ahead of the Dallas Mavericks. In other words, objects in the rearview mirror are closer than they appear.
Getting the monkey off their back-to-back performances this season won’t be easy. The Lakers have one more shot and at this juncture, wins are a much-needed commodity to ensure a postseason appearance. That chance begins on April 9 at home against the New Orleans Hornets, but ends at the Rose Garden on April 10 against the Portland Trail Blazers—a place where the Lakers notoriously struggle.
Ben Hernandez Jr.
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