“We got some guys who can fight, and that’s all you can ask for,” said head coach Mike D’Antoni during his post game press conference after the Lakers 114-108 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, a team tied with the Spurs for the best record in the Western Conference.
At the end of the day, the night ended with another tally mark in the loss column, but Sunday night’s loss provided a bit more depth than the other eight as the Staples Center crowd was sanguine after the final buzzer, giving the team a standing ovation after watching them claw their way back from a 20-point deficit to begin the fourth. Here we have these bizarro Lakers — a team staying competitive in games despite of a conjectural lack of talent — receiving standing ovations from a Staples Center crowd after a loss.
Down 20 heading into the fourth, D’Antoni stuck with a lineup of Xavier Henry, Jodie Meeks, Wes Johnson, Shawne Williams and Robert Sacre for much of the final period, with Williams only leaving because he fouled out. Point-by-point we watched as the Portland lead was whittled to 15 to 10 to five to one by a band of misfits that includes the 60th overall pick from the 2012 NBA Draft class and a guy who wasn’t even in the NBA last season in Williams.
No, the Lakers weren’t able to pull away with the win last night, but they provided a performance that a fan base can appreciate, one to rally around. The Blazers had the talent to close the game with a couple of huge three pointers from Damian Lillard and Wes Matthews in the final minutes of the game to keep the Lakers from taking the lead, and ultimately the win — but watching the mettle, the grit of this Lakers team compete with the best in the league is one of those strange performances in sports that will stick with you.
“I consider it a good fight,” said Henry when asked if he was encouraged by last night’s performance. “We didn’t come out well, but we ended the game as hard as we could. We showed people something today.” Henry was tasked with playing a psuedo-point guard role as Jordan Farmar went down with a hamstring injury early in the game and Steve Blake was struggling on the defensive end keeping up with Lillard. And it was Henry, a guy completely out of position, who ended up leading the charge in the Lakers comeback, including a break away dunk for which he received a technical foul after a distinctly malevolent, scowling look toward his opponent.
Henry scored a career high 27 points on nine-for-12 shooting, and even made seven of his 11 free throws to help keep the Lakers competitive. One of his closing mates on the night, Sacre, also recorded a career-high with 12 points as he continues to earn more minutes.
“That goes to show what kind of characters we have on this team,” Sacre began after being asked about coming back from a 20 point deficit. “We have tough guys who are willing to get better and never quit on anything. That’s the mentality of this team, and it’s great to see that we have those tough guys on this team.”
Sacre on the floor closing out the game against Portland also shows that he’s indeed one of those tough guys. There’s no telling what we’re going to get from this team on a night-to-night basis, but it’s becoming exceedingly more apparent with every game that we’re going to get something from these guys. There have been nine different leading scorers in 18 games for the Lakers this season on a team with a rotation that goes 11 deep. This isn’t a talented Lakers team (comparatively), but there’s room for optimism, which is more than what was provided before this season began.
Robert Sacre Talks Career High Night In Loss To Portland