If you’re a fan of the Los Angeles Lakers, this is a season that you’d just as soon forget. Not only are the Lakers 16.5 games out of first place behind the Pacific Division leading Clippers, but they’ve got one of the worst records in the NBA. To add insult to injury, their lack of success over the past ten games (2-8) indicates things will get worse before they get better.
But as the saying goes, the sun even shines on a dog’s ass once in a while, and the sun was shining bright in Cleveland last Wednesday as the Lakers topped the Cavaliers 119-108 in what turned out to be the strangest game of the season.
You know it had to be strange if we’re devoting this much attention to a Lakers-Cavaliers game in 2014. (Next week we’ll be covering a charity event between the Bucks and the Milwaukee Fire Dept.)
It’s no secret that LA’s roster has been decimated by injuries this season, but suiting up just eight players borders on the absurd. Is this professional basketball or a pick-up game at the Y.M.C.A.?
Brace yourself for this star-studded starting five: Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar, Wesley Johnson, Ryan Kelly, and Robert Sacre.
Coming in off the bench were Chris Kaman, Kendall Marshall, and Nick “Swaggy P” Young.
When opportunity knocks, answer the door.
Looking to make the best of a bad situation, the Lakers came out of the gate firing on all cylinders. After one quarter Wesley Johnson had 15 points and 4 boards and Los Angeles shot an incredible 71.4% from the floor. The score was LA 36, CLE 17.
The second quarter brought more of the same as LA headed into halftime up 70-49. It was the most points scored by the Lakers in a half all season.
This is when things started getting weird.
Young twists his knee.
Swaggy P lost some of his swagger as he left the game with a twisted left knee.
No worries, they still had two reserves to rotate in off the bench, a double-digit lead, and a lights-out shooting night to ride the rest of the way.
And then there were six.
Chris Kaman got a little too hack happy and he was sent to the showers early with his sixth personal foul.
Man, I hope Jordan Farmar doesn’t get hurt … whoops, too late. We’re down to five.
At this point Mike D’Antoni told his players: Whatever you do, don’t foul out.
Apparently Robert Sacre didn’t get the memo, and late in the fourth quarter he fouled out as well.
Here’s where weird goes crazy.
Cleveland, preparing for the very first power play in franchise history, is disappointed to learn that Sacre is actually allowed to stay in the game. Here’s the verbatim text out of the NBA rulebook that prevented the Cavs from having a 5 on 4 advantage:
- Each team shall consist of five players. No team may be reduced to less than five players. If a player in the game receives his sixth personal foul and all substitutes have already been disqualified, said player shall remain in the game and shall be charged with a personal and team foul. A technical foul also shall be assessed against his team. All subsequent personal fouls, including offensive fouls, shall be treated similarly. All players who have six or more personal fouls and remain in the game shall be treated similarly.
So, Sacre stayed in and the Lakers held on for their first win after dropping 7 straight. Sure, the win hardly makes up for what’s bound to end up as a lost season, but at least the game added a little excitement to a ho-hum 2013-14 campaign.
And, hey, before we cry too many tears for Jack Nicholson and the rest of the Laker faithful, the franchise has missed the playoffs a whopping five seasons since 1948. To compare, the Timberwolves have missed the playoffs nine times since 2004, and it doesn’t look like they’ll be breaking their league-long playoff drought this season either.
Start of a big time turnaround?
These are the kinds of game that teams build momentum off, and following the wild one in Cleveland, Los Angeles rattled off their second straight double-digit road win 112-98 at Philadelphia on Friday night.
They did drop a heartbreaker at home 92-86 to the Bulls, but with Steve Nash supposedly coming back into the line-up tomorrow against the Jazz, could it be time for the Lakers to make a miraculous second-half run?
Crazier things have happened. Remember how Golden State caught fire after the All-Star break last season?
A lot of things change after the break. Players’ minutes increase, young guys step up, coaches adjust strategies, and games become more intense.
But the biggest obstacle working against the Lakers in their quest for a miracle won’t be their roster depth, but the strength of the Western Conference as a whole.
At (30-21), the Warriors currently hold the #8 playoff seed, which puts them a full 12 games ahead of the Lakers. For LA to sneak in and turn their season around, they’ll also need at least a couple solid teams to implode.
A little more craziness before we sign out.
The whole “foul-out but didn’t” fiasco inspired me to do some research and see if I could find other bizarro games in the NBA archives. And it turns out that I found something even wackier.
In 1982, in a game between the Lakers and the Spurs, LA was down by 2 with three seconds left to play and Norm Nixon was at the free-throw line for the second of two free throws.
Nixon faked the shot, causing both the Lakers and the Spurs to jump into the lane. A double lane violation was called and the referees decided there would be a tip-off at center court. The Lakers won the tip-off and Nixon scored a basket to force overtime.
Los Angeles secured the victory in overtime … at least temporarily.
San Antonio petitioned to the league that the fake shot on the free-throw was an illegal maneuver. Although the rule book did not clearly state that this was a violation, the league ruled that the results would be nullified and the final three seconds would be replayed the next time that the two teams met.
In the replay, Nixon missed the free throw on purpose but LA was unable to score a basket, and so the NBA reversed the score and gave the win to San Antonio.
It’s hard to imagine today having the league reverse a final score long after the game had finished, but this is exactly what happened. After the season the rules committee formally made it illegal to fake a free throw shot. The rule was later amended to read that a free throw must hit the rim or it is a dead ball with the opposing team taking the ball out of bounds.
Did you know?
Along the way I also found out that it is actually illegal to shoot at your own basket. Apparently the only own-goals that are allowed are ones deemed to be purely accidental; for example, tipping the ball into your own net while fighting for a rebound.
But if a player squares up and fires one off at his own basket, a successful bucket is nullified and the ball is rewarded to the other team, just as if the ball had been thrown out of bounds.