RENO, Nev. — Michael Jordan’s Bulls winning 72 games in the 1995-96 season was unprecedented. The 33-game winning streak by the Lakers in 1971-72 was unexpected. Wilt Chamberlain scoring 100 in a single game in 1962 was unbelievable.
But when it came to the absolutely unthinkable on the eve of this season, it had to be a Lakers team with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash missing the playoffs.
You could see it on the faces recoiling in shock as NBA coaches, general managers and scouts checked their email and news feeds from courtside at the NBA D-League Showcase.
One minute they were watching Robert Sacre of the L.A. D-Fenders get pushed around in the low post by Hassan Whiteside of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and in the next moment it hit them that they were watching the Lakers starting center for Tuesday night’s game in Houston.
With Howard (shoulder), Gasol (concussion) and Jordan Hill (hip) all sidelined, Sacre will be called up from the D-League and in the middle when the Lakers play the opener of a back-to-back set against the Rockets and Spurs.
Talk about being thrown into the deep end of the pool. Sacre will get his starter’s baptism against Omer Asik, who has been a virtual double-double machine in the middle.
“Who could possibly have seen this?” asked one NBA executive. “Over the past few weeks you kept expecting the Lakers to get their act together and kept being shocked when more time went by and they didn’t.”
“With this latest news right now,” said another, “we’re probably looking at the best 15-18 team in NBA history that doesn’t even make the playoffs. Where do they go from here?”
For the short term, at least, to Sacre, the 7-foot rookie out of Gonzaga, who has played sparingly — 55 minutes in 13 games — while scoring a total of seven points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
Sacre had 15 points and nine rebounds in a 127-104 loss to the Vipers, but gave up most of the 19 and 16 at the other end to Whiteside.
“Robert understands defense, but still has work to do,” said D-Fenders coach Reggie Theus. “He’s not super athletic. He might get his shot blocked a few times and that causes problems. But he does the little things.
“He knows how to play. He can knock down the 15-footer. He can take the ball to the basket. But what he really does is move the ball so well. I think he’s a very solid player who is going to be around the NBA level for a long time.”
First he’s got to stay afloat in the deep water that’s on the verge of washing the Lakers away.