Discover more from The Morning Column presented by The Sporting Tribune
The Morning Column: December 20, 2021
Every time the Lakers have had a moment this season where I’ve thought they might have turned the corner; they hit a big speed bump. The one they hit last week was their biggest one yet.
Good morning on a beautiful Monday and welcome to The Morning Column. Please subscribe if you haven’t done so. It will be delivered to you every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. To avoid the email ending up in your spam folder, please add firstname.lastname@example.org to your contacts. You can also email me there as well. I would love to hear from you.
1. Every time the Lakers have had a moment this season where I’ve thought they might have turned the corner; they hit a big speed bump.
After they beat the Miami Heat last month in overtime when the Heat had the best record in the East, they got blown out by the Minnesota Timberwolves, 107-83, at home in the very next game. The Timberwolves had lost their last six going into the contest but outscored the Lakers 40-12 in the third quarter. The Lakers lost four of the next five after beating Miami.
After they came back to beat the Detroit Pistons in an emotional game following LeBron James’ ejection following the altercation with Isaiah Stewart, the Lakers lost to the New York Knicks after trailing by 21 points in the first quarter and three days later lost at home to a Sacramento Kings team that had lost 8 of 9 games.
The most recent moment came Wednesday, when undrafted rookie Austin Reaves hit a game-winning three-pointer in overtime to give the Lakers a 107-104 win over the Dallas Mavericks on the road. The Lakers celebrated on the court and showered Reaves in the locker room with water and Gatorade as if they had just won a championship. The Lakers had won three in a row and never looked closer. The Lakers have lost two straight since that game to Minnesota and Chicago as their roster has been hit with COVID and injuries.
If the Lakers lose their next game to the Phoenix Suns, currently an NBA-best 24-5, on Tuesday, they will be 16-16 on the season after 32 games. That record sounds about right for a team that has been stuck in neutral all season.
2. The biggest issue for the Lakers going forward (not just this season but beyond) is the health of Anthony Davis. Against Minnesota, Davis suffered an MCL sprain in his left knee and will be out at least four weeks. Davis, who feared the injury could have been worse, will be reevaluated by the team after rehabbing over the next month.
Last season, Davis played in just 36 games and missed 30 games with right calf and heel issues. He was later sidelined for the playoffs with a strained groin after the Lakers took a 2-1 series lead on Phoenix. Before being traded to the Lakers in 2019, Davis played in just 56 games for the New Orleans Pelicans during the 2018-19 season.
Davis is 28 years old and signed a five-year contract worth up to $190 million with the Lakers last season. The plan was for LeBron James to pass the torch and hand the keys to the Lakers off to Davis by now but it’s hard to do that with a player sidelined for half the season. The Lakers will never regret trading for Davis. He helped them win a championship less than 15 months ago and was one of the top five players in the league at the time. It’s possible he and the Lakers could still return to that form but given the way the two seasons since the Lakers’ championship are playing out, the team would be wise to start planning for a future without Davis as their centerpiece.
3. On this date (Dec. 20, 2005) 16 years ago, Kobe Bryant scored 62 points against the Dallas Mavericks in three quarters. The Mavericks would go on to play in the NBA Finals that season but on this night, Bryant outscored the Mavericks by himself through three periods, 62-61. The Lakers were blowing out Dallas 95-61 and with the game in hand, Bryant took a seat on the bench after playing just 33 minutes.
Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw, who was Bryant’s teammate from 1999-2003, told me later for an ESPN.com story that he asked Bryant if he wanted to stay in the game to score 70 points. Only three players in NBA history (Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and David Robinson) had ever scored 70 points in a game but Bryant declined and sat out the entire fourth quarter.
“After the third quarter, the players were on the bench and the coaches went out and huddled on the court. Phil (Jackson) asked me to go ask Kobe if he wanted to stay in the game and try to get 70 and then come out. So, I went up to Kobe and said, ‘Hey, Coach wants to know if you want to stay in for the first few minutes of the fourth quarter, get 70 and then come out.’ He looked up at the scoreboard, and he said, ‘Nah, I'll get it another time.’ I looked at him and I kind of got mad. I said: ‘What?! You have a chance to get 70 points. How many people can say they scored 70 points? Just stay in the first few minutes and get another eight points, get 70 and then come out of the game.’ He said: ‘I'll do it when we really need it. I'll get it when it really matters.’
Bryant smiled when I relayed that story to him.
“Brian was mad. He was like: ‘Man, are you crazy? You know what you could score tonight?’ I just said, ‘I'll do it when we really need it.’ Brian was like, ‘What?!’ It was something that just rolled off my tongue because I trained extremely hard and the physical tools were there. I just felt like I could have a game like that again.”
One month later he did; scoring 81 points against the Toronto Raptors.
4. The Rams are hoping to be closer to full strength by Tuesday night after their game on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks was postponed after nearly 30 Rams players were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list last week. Every day, new players are coming off the list for the Rams such as Jalen Ramsey, Odell Beckham Jr. and Darrell Henderson but there are still 20 players on the list, including Von Miller, Rob Havenstein and Tyler Higbee. If the Rams beat the 5-8 Seahawks at SoFi Stadium on Tuesday, they will improve to 10-4 and tied for the second-best record in the league behind the 11-3 Green Bay Packers.
5. The NHL has suspended games with cross-border travel through Christmas and perhaps beyond after a number of COVID-19 outbreaks around the league. The NHL has already postponed close to 30 games due to COVID-19 and its highly unlikely NHL players will participate in the Beijing Olympics this February. The league also has introduced enhanced COVID-19 protocols through at least Jan. 7, including daily testing, social distancing and mask mandates.
When the league does return to some semblance of normalcy, do yourself a favor and check out the Anaheim Ducks and Vegas Golden Knights, both tied atop the Pacific Division and tied for the best record in the Western Conference. It has never been easier and more inexpensive to catch a Golden Knights game in Las Vegas after they were the hottest ticket in town through their first four seasons. Meanwhile the Ducks have to be the least talked about, least covered team that’s leading their division and conference in league history and you can usually get a decent ticket to a game at the Honda Center for less than $40.
6. In some non-sports news, Hard Rock International is buying The Mirage for more than $1 billion and plans to build a guitar-shaped hotel tower on the site.
7. Here are some odds if you’re thinking about placing a wager today brought to you by Circa Sports.
8. Here’s the local pro sports schedule today brought to you by Yaamava’.
7:30 p.m. San Antonio Spurs at Los Angeles Clippers – Bally Sports SoCal
9. Here are the “get in” prices for tickets locally on TickPick if you’re thinking about going to a pro sports game today.
San Antonio Spurs at Los Angeles Clippers – $6
10. On Friday’s The Arash Markazi Show, we talked about the Chargers and Chiefs playing a classic Thursday Night Football game at SoFi Stadium and COVID’s impact on the sports world (again).
Listen to The Arash Markazi Show Monday-Friday from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. on The Mightier 1090 in Southern California following The Rich Eisen Show and on 98.5 The Fan in Las Vegas following The Jim Rome Show. The Mightier 1090 has one of the strongest radio signals in North America and can be heard from “Baja to the Canadian Rockies” and 98.5 The Fan is the home of college football and the Los Angeles Chargers in Las Vegas. You can listen to The Mightier 1090 anywhere with your free TuneIn app or ask your smart speaker to “Play The Mightier 1090.” You can listen to 98.5 The Fan anywhere with your free Audacy app or ask your smart speaker to “Play The Fan Las Vegas.” You can also listen to the show on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher and the BLEAV Podcast Network.
And please click below to subscribe to The Morning Column at Substack. Please also consider supporting my colleagues at Substack (and former colleagues at ESPN and SI): Marc Stein, Henry Abbott, Chad Ford and Ethan Sherwood Strauss on the NBA, Molly Knight and Joe Posnanski on MLB, Ariel Helwani on MMA, Dan Rafael on boxing, Grant Wahl and Leander Schaerlaeckens on soccer and Chris Peters on the NHL.
That’s it for today. Talk to you on Wednesday.