Some executive decided many months ago that we’d watch the Lakers and Nets in primetime this year, and we’d like it, dammit. Perhaps this was a smart bet. The players involved, and their various injury histories, ages, star power, personal hang-ups about vaccination, and distances from their prime playing days meant the teams could either be extremely good (interesting TV) or extremely bad (interesting TV) on a given night in the regular season. And if brighter days await the eighth-place Nets now that Kyrie Irving will soon be unbanned from his own arena, the games have mostly gone the second way for the Lakers. They fell to 27-33 after last night’s awful, nationally televised 123-95 loss to the Pelicans, their fifth loss in six games; their grip on even a Western Conference play-in game spot continues to loosen. The new grim Lakers development is that what was once sporadic booing, popping up here and there to punctuate dumb turnovers and bricked threes, has now evolved into something of a dull, constant chorus.
It’s probably a more convenient form of booing than start-and-stop booing at this point. Sunday night, the Pelicans scored 25 points off 23 Lakers turnovers, seven of them Russell Westbrook’s, seven of them LeBron’s. In just the third quarter, they were outscored 44-25 and didn’t make a single of their nine three-point attempts. The final damage on the night would be 7-of-34 shooting from three. That a home crowd found reason to boo literally LeBron James! is kind of sad, but who can be blamed for disliking the Lakers? No one on the team seems to be having a good time or to be even remotely invested in this season. Dwight Howard’s prescription after the loss was “to stay positive.” LeBron himself, a free agent after next season, recently mused about a return to Cleveland or a late-career stint with his eldest son elsewhere in the NBA. (A few days later, he assured reporters that he wanted to play “in the purple and gold as long as I can play,” though his very next sentence after that began with “But.”)
The people paid to analyze Lakers games don’t care for them, either. Ryan Ruocco, to his credit, tried remaining cheery on last night’s broadcast, but Richard Jefferson, to his credit, did not try at all. When Ruocco called DeAndre Jordan’s botched cross-court pass to the fans sitting baseline “a souvenir from the game,” Jefferson quickly pointed out that no one wanted any souvenir from this game and later said he hoped his children were not watching.
The Lakers press corps has now spent an alarming portion of players’ recent media availabilities gently asking how it feels to be booed. “It’s a sign of respect,” Westbrook said, bafflingly, earlier this month, after being booed for a turnover. “My mindset and how I think about this game and what I’m able to do for this game is not predicated on boos.” Nor, he said yesterday, are boos something he will “take home” and dwell on. “Nah,” he said, launching into an earnest version of the joke that says online praise for Westbrook’s parenting acumen tends to coincide with his worst shooting nights. “Take it home? For what? Shit. Take it home? I got three beautiful kids at my house. Why would I take it home?”