MILWAUKEE – The respective head coaches were asked prior to the game Thursday which of their teams was feeling more desperate.
By the end of the night, the Lakers’ Mike D’Antoni had it all over the Bucks’ Jim Boylan. For all the wrong reasons.
Snapshot of the night, the latest in this tortuous season for L.A.: Kobe Bryant hopping out of the BMO Harris Bradley Center on one crutch, his left foot burning from a bone spur diagnosed after the game. Bryant did not talk with reporters in the dressing room but did say to Yahoo! Sports as he maneuvered toward a waiting car: “Inflamed on me. I’ll be all right.” The Lakers were staying over in Milwaukee before flying to Sacramento Friday, where Bryant is expected to be examined again.
This came at the tail end of what already had been a lousy night. After the 113-103 loss the Bucks, their eighth-place counterparts from the East. After another defensive collapse and a blown 13-point lead. After point guard Steve Nash exited for good at 5:13 of the third quarter with an aching back and hamstring. After an old, banged-up team – still smarting from Metta World Peace‘s knee surgery earlier in the day – showed its age, D’Antoni said, then got a little older and more banged-up.
“It’s been a long year, there’s no doubt about it,” forward Pau Gasol said. “A lot of ups and downs. But we’re here. We believe in ourselves. We have the weapons. Hopefully we will stay healthy enough to be able to give it our best shot. But it’s been difficult, no doubt about it.”
Bryant, who sprained his left ankle in Atlanta two weeks ago and missed two games, led the Lakers with 30 points Thursday but shot 6-of-17 from the floor. He was 2-of-8 in the second half, when L.A. got outscored 60-47 by a Bucks club that had dropped four in a row and wasn’t playing at all like a team, ahem, peaking for the playoffs.
But Milwaukee, 35-36, perked up and crept within two games of seventh-place Boston in the East. Led by Larry Sanders’ career-high 21 points and 13 rebounds, all five starters scored in double figures, and Marquis Daniels‘ defense on Bryant led an effort that limited the Lakers to 37.5 percent shooting after halftime, including 1-of-11 on 3-pointers.
“When you’re losing, it seems like you’ll never win again,” Daniels said. “Finally we got a win, we can breathe a little bit. Not breathe, but it’s fresh air and we’ve got to continue to build off this.”
The fact that D’Antoni’s team, 37-36, is sweating out games in late March and figures to do so right through however many it has in April, sums up the failures of its season. Nash is expected to face the Kings Saturday and, given Bryant’s recuperative track record, maybe he won’t miss time either. But with just nine games remaining, a Lakers team that so often can’t control its own scoreboard will be eyeballing others’.
“We have to,” Gasol conceded. “We don’t need anybody else to be injured, to be out, missing games, especially at this point of the year. So let’s see what happens. Hopefully Kobe will be healthy for the next game. Steve will be healthy. I’ll get healthier and we’ll continue to move forward.”
Continue? There was a distinct shifting of gears Thursday but grinding, like something headed toward reverse.