Los Angeles • This year for the first time, the banners, Staples Center’s golden sentinels, have been covered up during Clipper games, replaced by larger-than-life portraits of Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and the city’s up-and-coming basketball stars.
In October, back when hopes were high that Kobe Bryant would triumphantly return from injury, joining Steve Nash and Pau Gasol in another playoff push, the decision to cover them — 16 championship banners and the jerseys of nine Laker Hall of Famers — was seen as an affront.
It would be far from the only indignity the Lakers would suffer.
Bryant’s comeback attempt has turned into a second. Nash, the 40-year-old point guard, has played in just nine games.
Three times this year, the Lakers have been dropped from the national TV slate, the most recent bump coming this week, when ESPN announced it preferred a matchup between the Suns and Rockets over the Lakers hosting the Nets.
If the season ended today, at 18-33, the Lakers’ .353 winning percentage would be the lowest since the franchise moved to Los Angeles. Only two Minneapolis Lakers teams (1957-58, 1959-60) were ever worse.
“Those are just the cards that they’re dealt,” said Jazz forward Richard Jefferson, who grew up rooting for the Showtime Lakers. “No one feels sorry for them. There were a lot of years when they were coming into towns, packing arenas, beating everyone by 30 and then leaving. No one cares. No one cares about our struggles. No one cares about their struggles.”
What do Bryant, Gasol, Nick Young, Jodie Meeks and Xavier Henry all have in common?
They are five of L.A.’s top six scorers.
What else do they have in common?
All of them will miss Tuesday’s game with the Jazz due to injury.
It’s been a year more about bandages than banners for the Lakers, who have seen players combine to miss 176 games this season. By comparison, Jazz players have missed a combined 74 games so far this season due to injury.
Last week, the Lakers dressed only eight players in a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and lost two more to injury along the way. By the end of the game, center Robert Sacre had to stay on the floor despite picking up his sixth foul so that L.A. could finish with five players.
Still, there’ll be no sympathy from the struggling Jazz.
“Nothing surprises me in this league,” said Utah coach Ty Corbin. “They’re where they are. We have our own headaches to worry about.”
Bryant has said he intends to return this year, but the Lakers might be better suited to wait, stockpile a few more losses and have a shot at drafting the next Laker great.
“It’s weird seeing them down,” said Jazz point guard John Lucas III, “but at the end of the day everything’s in a circle.”
Jazz at Lakers
P At Staples Centers, Los Angeles
Tipoff • Tuesday, 8:30 p.m.
TV • ROOT Sports
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 17-33; Lakers 18-33
About the Jazz • Coming off a surprise win over the Miami Heat on Saturday, which snapped a four-game losing streak. … Forward Marvin Williams has scored 20 or more points in each of his last three games. … Gordon Hayward was a point and a rebound shy of a triple-double against Miami. He had 11 assists.
About the Lakers • Hit hard by injuries all season, Lakers players have combined to miss 176 games this year. … Point guard Steve Nash expects to play Tuesday despite a leg injury, according to reports. … Point guard Kendall Marshall, a D-League signing earlier this season, has been a pleasant surprise for the struggling Lakers, averaging 10 points and 9 assists.