Okay, so a little hyperbole in the title but I had to come up with something and I rarely write these posts without a title first - I find it usually degenerates nicely from there. First however, let’s create a restore point. Dateline: the Skid. Four underachieving games, the longest Lakers losing streak since the Smush era. Each game winnable and in fact, we were in each right to the end. Brian Shaw said we should have won them, laying out how little things start to turn against a team and in turn how an opponent’s confidence builds as they realize they’re actually in this thing. He obviously has the inside track but I’ve personally never much liked the oft-used "should have won" scenario. You win a game because you played better and in each of the four games we were outplayed, period.
Sidebar: Whenever I think of Shaw I think of the 7th game in the Lakers/Portland western finals, 2000. I was at Staples and like most everyone else, fairly glum when the 4th quarter rolled along, down by 17. And then, one of the epic comebacks in playoff history, up on my feet and screaming with all the rest, the Shawshaq redemption, say no more.
As for "should-haves", last night’s game was a legitimate example of expected target practice and the win was delivered accordingly. Sacramento’s not nearly the same caliber from the days of Fox vs. Christie, they’re currently riding their own losing streak straight to the cellar and if the Maloof brothers possess a lick of sense between them they’ll kick Westphal to the curb while there’s still a chance to stem the hemorrhaging. The guy’s not coaching, he’s blaming. The biggest question mark last night was Pau, overtaxed as of late and nursing a sore hammy. There was a question as to whether he’d see action, Jackson’s penciled-in starter being one Derrick Caracter, subject of a quickly abandoned journal in SfS’s budding days. Pau was good to go come game time however and delivered a solid 16 points in 26 minutes of smolder. Not a lot of rebounds but 5 assists and somewhat surprisingly for a leg without lift, 3 blocks. Kobe and Odom each played well and the starters in general looked like they were running practice drills, executing according to plan under the watchful eyes of a home crowd that was fully expecting free tacos.
And so, the final quarter came with the lead long established and the only question being which version of the bench would show. Not always but often enough over recent years, large 4th quarter leads have brought a complacency, a feeling of garbage time in the truest sense. It wasn’t the case last night. This unit wasn’t the Killer B’s save for Shannon Brown. This was the end of the bench mob, a 3rd-string unit that included prodigal son Luke, one-time machine Sasha, and Caracter & Ebanks, two second-round rookies who rarely see the floor together. They came in like it meant something and it did, sky-walking dunks from Brown, an impressive array of post moves from Caracter (often at the expense of DeMarcus Cousins), a solid effort from Ebanks, hustle energy from Sasha and obvious joy and enthusiasm from Luke who was bouncing around on his toes, collecting a bucket, a rebound, a steal and an assist in the process. His dad was calling the game for the Kings and must have been thrilled to see the kid playing pain-free. All 12 players who suited up, scored. Caracter and Ebanks notched career/season highs. The 4th quarter unit not only preserved the lead but increased it and while Pau eyed Caracter’s five fouls with trepidation, the starters were still able to enjoy the action from the bench, strapped firmly to their ice.
Somewhere down the line, the four-game losing streak will be a reference point, the blowout against the Kings vaguely remembered and the final quarter will be the tiniest of footnotes, if at all. Certainly, it won’t be in the pantheon of epic 4ths like the Portland/Lakers game 7. But for me, it felt something akin to the first outing of the season, a stretch of playing time where all goes right in the world, a seldom-used unit firing on all cylinders, the crowd up and cheering and me grinning at a shaky laptop feed, moving in past snowy pixels and finding a memorable moment to lock onto as morning hours approached and the temperature dropped.