Depending on the fans’ leanings, the outcome of yesterday’s featured matchup in the National Basketball Association was either a big win for the Lakers or a big loss for the Nets. Those with no skin in the game, however, saw it as neither, and for a good number of reasons. For one thing, both sides were missing marquee names; LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and James Harden were at the Barclays Center, but in street clothes, convalescing from injuries that figured to keep them on the sidelines for a while. For another, whatever star power remained dwindled even more after Kyrie Irving and Dennis Schröder were ejected with still 9:41 left on the third quarter. And certainly it didn’t help that Kevin Durant was on a minutes restriction that limited his time on the court to 24 minutes.
Which, in a nutshell, meant that the Lakers and Nets played a significant portion of the set-to with complementary players on the floor. It proved to be a bummer for hoops diehards who were already reeling from the absence of the usual starters, and reduced the proceedings to a veritable scrimmage. That said, it showed who managed to stay focused and who could not adjust accordingly. Up until the referees sent Irving and Schröder to the showers, the scores had been close. Following the turn of events, the visitors found momentum; their lead stood at 15 heading into the payoff period, and at 26 five minutes and change later, enabling them to cruise to victory.
To contend that the Lakers were ecstatic in the aftermath would be an understatement. They had been struggling without Davis and James, tumbling from second to fifth in Western Conference standings and, given a tough schedule, prepped for further swooning in the near term. Meanwhile, the Nets were riding a wave of success despite having been able to see Durant, Harden, and Irving on the court for only six outings to date. Despite the two-day rest, though, and notwithstanding a 10-game win streak in familiar confines, the hosts could not muster enough fight to take the measure of the opposition.
If there’s anything the outcome underscored, it’s that the Lakers have stellar coverage to turn to as a saving grace. Without James and Davis, their offense has tumbled to worst in the league. Even without the two, meanwhile, their defense has held up — and to a point where decent shooting percentages can keep them competitive. True, the worst is not over; they are compelled to hold the fort for three more weeks. At the same time, the Nets gave them exactly what they needed yesterday: hope.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.