LeBron James and Mario Hezonja

USA Today

The Lakers Are Imploding

This season that looked so good in December can’t end fast enough in March.

March 18, 2019 - 1:17 pm

The Los Angeles Lakers went into Madison Square Garden yesterday to take on the New York Knicks. There was a time when a battle between the Lakers and Knicks would’ve been the biggest story in sports. LA vs. New York. Two iconic cities, two storied franchises, facing off in the most historic arena.

Yesterday was not that time. Did you even know that game happened? Seriously. It was as if everyone knew this was going to be a horrible game and we should just try to move it to a time when nobody can see it.

Because the game tipped off at noon. On the East Coast. Which meant that if you were on the West Coast, and you cared about that game, you had to set an alarm to wake up and see it. Hell, if you’re scheduling 9 am NBA games, why bother even playing them? It’s not like anyone is going to see it. Or give a damn. How important can it be if it tips at 9 am? Why not just go old school with it like they did the NBA finals back in the day, and tape delay it at 11:30pm. And yes, that really did happen. They really was a real thing. And as recently as the mid-80s. And that’s was this was. Or the next best thing. Because when I say there were no winners in yesterday’s Lakers-Knicks game, I mean that.

It’s not a figure of speech. It’s a fact. The Knicks won the game, but really, that’s a loss because they’re only 2 ½ games ahead of Phoenix for the worst record in the league.

And the Lakers lost that game, which I guess you could try to argue is a win because it could help their lottery chances, but it’s a loss and it’s an even worse loss because it came against the Knicks.  

And because it all came down to this play. Again, forget for a moment that the Lakers aren’t going to make the playoffs and that their season is getting worse by the minute and just focus on this: I am talking about the Los Angeles Lakers playing the New York Knicks and I just used the phrase “it all came down to this play.” That right there is the biggest indictment of the season.

Anyway, it all came down to this play.

Mario Hezonja, if you need him. And now he carves his name into the history books as one of six people to block LeBron on a game-winning shot. The other names? Tobias Harris, Mason Plumlee, Jimmy Butler, John Salmons and Samuel Dalembert.

That is Mario Hezonja blocking LeBron James and that is the Lakers season in a nutshell. And so was the image that went viral afterwards, of Mario smiling and pointing at LeBron while James is down on one knee.

Now, it’s important to note for accuracy sake, that didn’t come after the blocked shot. That came earlier in the game, but that didn’t stop it from going viral in a heartbeat. And become a full-blown meme before lunchtime on the West Coast. And that pretty much sums up yesterday and the entire season.

The block that ended the game, capped off a truly brutal fourth quarter for LeBron where he went 4 for 15. And all you needed to see was that final play where he suddenly looked really, really old. Given the way he’s been throwing down lately, I’m going to say that he didn’t turn into a 70 year old man overnight, but LeBron sure looked like it on that play.

Then again, it’s Mario Freaking Hezonja. He’ll do that to you. This is the same guy who dunked on Giannis earlier this season and then stepped over Giannis afterwards. And that prompted Giannis to say this after the game.

Giannis comes off as one of the more relaxed, fun-loving guys in the league, and he says he’s going to clock Mario.  And that’s because Mario comes to play. Dunking on Giannis and swatting LeBron. The association has never seen a guy averaging 7.8 points per game with more confidence or attitude that Mario.

As for the Lakers, I’d say losing to the Knicks is rock bottom. But I know it’s not. I know there are new depths they can explore in the remaining games. And if you want to freak out about LeBron sitting at the end of the bench during a time out, be my guest.  Again, we’re just rearranging deck chairs on the titanic. No, it doesn’t look good, but then again, what about this team looks good right now? Absolutely nothing.

If you want to go nuts about the embarrassment of a breakfast time loss to the Knicks yesterday, be my guest. But LeBron himself said it best after the game: "It bothers me in the fact we didn't close the game out, and being the competitor that I am, it bothers me that I didn't make enough plays down the stretch; it bothers me that I didn't even get a shot up at the hoop. Of course that stuff bothers me, but I mean what's the difference between their record and our record? Two teams out of the postseason. So there's no difference. We have a couple more wins than them, but both teams right now are on the outside looking in, so it's not much of a difference."

That is the damn truth. There isn’t much of a difference between the Lakers and the Knicks right now. The Lakers have a few more wins, but that’s about it. 

Actually, there is one difference between the Lakers and the Knicks right now. And it's the ultimate salt in the wound of Laker fans: the Knicks have a damn good chance of signing one, if not two, premium free agents. That's right. The New York Knicks have been a complete and utter trainwreck for decades and have some of the most dysfunctional ownership in all of sports, but they are a more attractive free agent destination than LA right now. Yeah I said it. And I said because it’s true. Stars would rather ball out in New York for James Dolan than they would L.A. alongside LeBron. 

We can debate whether you really want Kyrie on your team, but the Knicks are the ones with a shot of signing him, not the Lakers. And that has to suck for Laker fans. As bad as the Knicks are, they have hope. 

The Lakers, ehhh, let's not get into that. In other words, the worst part of yesterday's loss to the Knicks is that it's not even the worst part.

LA is imploding at a rapid rate and it’s getting worse by the game. This season that looked so good in December can’t end fast enough in March. 

This season has gotten so bad that losing to the Knicks isn’t embarrassing, it’s pretty much expected. And it’s actually a good thing. And that’s the worst look of all.