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After an offseason that saw the team deal for the league’s best center and second-most dominant player, and the game’s best point guard of the last 20 years (all for the pittance of some lower-rung draft picks and a player in Andrew Bynum who didn’t work a minute in 2012-13), the Los Angeles Lakers have made the NBA playoffs. Mainly because Utah Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin couldn’t get his team to shoot straight in its most meaningful game of the season.
The Jazz needed to win on Wednesday night just to stay alive and hope that the Houston Rockets downed the Los Angeles Lakers in a Pacific-timed shootout in order to grab the West’s eighth and final seed. Backs against the wall, the Jazz only mustered 30 combined first and third quarter points in Memphis in game No. 82, coming out of the locker room both times to fall flat against the West’s top defense, losing 86-70 in the process. On national TV, mind you, the Jazz shot 32 percent.
In a year where the Lakers disappointed in just about every conceivable way, it was the Jazz who proved Wednesday they were completely undeserving of the postseason stage. And this is in the face of a Lakers team that will be working without Kobe Bryant in the first round, and possibly without the still-injured Steve Nash.
Bryant, as you’d expect, took advantage of the minor victory on Twitter:
It’s worth celebrating, I suppose, but it’s also worth remembering the fact that the Lakers graced the cover of Sports Illustrated’s NBA preview issue last fall, and were expected to contend for the conference crown. In a way, the latter is still possible and was still a fleeting hope when Bryant was in active trim this time last week, but even with Kobe’s unfortunate injury, the excuse machine can’t argue away how badly the Lakers disappointed this year. From Nash’s nagging injuries to Pau Gasol’s misuse to Dwight Howard’s up-and-down play to the odd coaching designs of both Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni, this was a waste of a season even before Bryant sadly went down to an Achilles tear.
Light up a few bottle rockets in celebration of a first-round visit, Los Angeles, but understand that you deserved so much more. Especially in light of an upcoming first-round pairing with the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team to whom the Lakers have lost nine of their last 12.
For Utah, this could spell not only the end of Corbin’s time as coach, but also the Utah careers of free agents Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, and Mo Williams. Millsap, after literally seven years of trade rumors, looked listless in his possible last week with the Jazz, shooting 39 percent along the way. Jefferson banged and flipped shots in per usual, but Williams also struggled down the stretch, ending his season with a 3-for-13 night from the field. The Jazz could come in under the $30 million mark in payroll this summer if they decide to cut ties with each player.
For now, though, the Lakers are in. Not what we expected of the most expensive team in NBA history last fall, but at least they’ll get to treat their fans to a few more games on top of what has been a disastrous 82-game regular season run. As is usually the case in tasteful Los Angeles, it’s the small things that count.