OAKLAND – The Lakers’ Saturday night in Oracle Arena:
About 24 hours after defending power forward Kevin Love in Los Angeles, Wesley Johnson opened on point guard Stephen Curry, a sign of Johnson’s versatility but more a flashing red light about the state of the roster around him. Kendall Marshall went from being traded by the Suns to being unwanted and cut by the Wizards to unclaimed as a free agent to the D-League to signing Friday… to being sent in during the second quarter against the Warriors, an emergency acquisition to back up the point guard that had been backing up the emergency point guard. Chris Kaman got 17 shots, second-most on the team, speaking of flashing red lights of concern.
This is how it’s going to be for the Lakers. Beat the Timberwolves one night, lose 102-83 to the Warriors, hope Pau Gasol is back Monday at Phoenix after missing Saturday with an upper-respiratory infection, hope Jordan Farmar rides in later in the week as a hero – a point guard, a real point guard! – and mostly scrap around until Kobe Bryant returns from a fractured knee for the real gauge of where the team stands.
They are grinders now, trying to be plucky, needing to be resilient, wanting to be the contradiction of the team of future Hall of Famers that needs to get by. Not necessarily in on-court style, where the offense is often free flow, but certainly in attitude. Most nights will be about getting by.
It went well the last time under similar circumstances, the 10-9 record with Bryant recovering from a torn Achilles’ tendon and Steve Nash with six games of fingernails down a chalkboard while trying to play through nerve damage in his back. Now, the Lakers get to go through it all again, with no sign of a Nash return and Kobe Watch II scheduled to last approximately six weeks. By that time, .500 and the playoffs within telescope range would be a major accomplishment.
“We’ve got to battle, and I thought we did today,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We ran out of energy. We’ll go to Phoenix and we’re going to battle. We’re not going to be smooth. There’s no way. We’ve got 15 point guards out. But it’s good enough to win, and we’ll go to Phoenix and try to get one.”
Three true point guards – Nash, Farmar, Steve Blake – plus Bryant, the shooting guard pressed into emergency duty as No. 4, just in time to also go down. But same difference.
Xavier Henry, another swingman, got the latest battlefield promotion. Marshall is the only true distributor on the roster, if he counts after going from Phoenix lottery pick in 2012 to unsigned free agent in 2013 before the Lakers out-raced nobody to pull him from the Delaware 87ers on Friday. When he got an early chance Saturday, more a sign of desperation than a show of confidence from D’Antoni, Marshall committed two quick turnovers in his first NBA non-exhibition game since April 17, lasted all of 2 minutes 54 seconds before being yanked, and stayed on the bench until the rout was on in the fourth quarter.
The Warriors, after coach Mark Jackson said he could not remember a team ever being down to its fifth starting point guard in an entire season let alone one 27 games old, seized right on schedule, as every team will attempt to do in kind. He sent defenders to pressure Lakers ball handlers just to cross half court, resulting in 24 turnovers that led to 28 Golden State points and allowed the Warriors to win easily despite shooting 38.8 percent.
“That’s awfully tough,” Jackson, a former veteran point guard, said of the position woes in the other locker room. “Awfully tough. It’s tough to respond to it as a coach, as a team. The benefit that they have is they have guys that are comfortable handling the basketball even though they are not point guards. Henry handling the ball. Nick Young, we know he likes handling the basketball. It’s tough, but they don’t run a traditional offense where you need a point guard. They’re doing a good job. Give coach D’Antoni credit. He’s doing a good job of mixing it up and putting those guys in position to be successful.”
Los Angeles is 13-14 and heading to Phoenix for a Monday game against a team that, it’s a safe bet, will go with a similar strategy to try to constrict D’Antoni as he returns to the scene of his greatest coaching success. The Lakers hope to do better at enduring this time. It’s just that they are not going to be smooth. There’s no way.