Losing to the New York Knicks is embarrassing, even for the Los Angeles Lakers in a battle of titans tanking together. Things were going well during most of the time Jeremy Lin spent on the floor, but Byron Scott made sure to take him out at strategic moments, making sure that no winning streak begins.
The Knicks won 101-94 led by Tim Hardaway Jr. with 22 points. Jordan Hill led the Lakers with 19, but for a big man to score a lot against the Knicks? Nothing new, and is an indicator of nothing. Jordan Clarkson had a bad night against an even worse defense, and the Lakers played bad basketball while he was on the floor. Things were better with Lin, scoring 14 points and adding 7 assists in 22 minutes off the bench, but on the Lakers this season, playing well has nothing to do with the amount of minutes you’re going to get.
Why did Wayne Ellington come in for Jeremy Lin in the fourth quarter? No one knows. It doesn’t take an analytics genius or anything of the sort to see that the Lakers have a better chance to win the more Lin plays. Byron Scott waved the white flag that has been raised high since this season began. Maybe winning once every 10 days is enough for him.
Maybe that’s the plan: Win one in five or six. The Lakers are going to play the Atlanta Hawks (a team they’ve stunningly beaten this season already) and then go on the road against the Golden State Warriors, another team they’ve beaten to the shock of everyone. Obviously, they’re not expected to do very well against them this time, so maybe the losing streak will stop later against the Jazz or 76ers.
I wonder how it works, this tanking business. When does the team decide it’s actually OK to win? When is it alright to not interfere with what’s happening on the court and leave the best players on it? Sure, the Knicks were slightly ahead because of once again Scott taking out Lin at the wrong time in the second quarter and watching a D-League team outplay his own “creation.”
Phil Jackson spoke before the game about making it clear to his players that he wants to win this game. Even in tanking seasons, some nights stand out. Playing the Lakers is always special, especially for Jackson and Derek Fisher. A win here doesn’t interfere with their tank job and effort to be the worst in the NBA. There’s nothing wrong with giving fans a little bit of victory. There’s nothing wrong with not making the outcome of each game miserable on purpose.
With every game that goes by, Jeremy Lin and most of the players on this Lakers roster find less and less reasons to stay. Yes, the Lakers are trying to find out if their young players and especially Jordan Clarkson have it in them to be building blocks for the future. But Byron Scott is staying. Kobe Bryant is staying. The Lakers are gambling everything on the lottery and a free agency market that might not yield the superstar they’re looking for because not a lot of players want to play next to Bryant, even if they say otherwise in the media.
There are bad seasons, and there are disgraceful ones. The Lakers keep lowering the bar. It began by hiring Scott as the head coach for this tank job. It continues by seeing him sabotage games in winnable situations time after time. Sometimes fans and players have short memories, but if there’s some abstract concept of justice in the NBA, the Lakers will be punished for what they’re doing this season.