There is only so much sage you can smoke. You needed something stronger to handle last night's Lakers-Knicks game. Maybe a bindle of Mandrake root spiced with crushed tusk of mastodon; ayuhuasca with sacred rites uttered by an Amazonian shaman. You needed 1,000 dream catchers, all the mandalas in Topanga Canyon, a few trippy crystals, and several drops of Geronimo's blood, strewn all throughout your Staples Center luxury suite.
That's how Phil Jackson withstood the deluge. You could spot the new Knicks president from the press seats, looking like a snowy white owl, surrounded by Metta World Peace, who played him demos of his new concept rap album (loosely based on Shrek but with more of a 90s Queensbridge feel). The guffawing got out of control.
Maybe things didn't go down that path. Maybe the legendary guru wearily sighed with resignation that his days of carefree strolls through Playa Del Rey are over. He inevitably went home with his victorious fiancée, Lakers President, Jeannie Buss, had a cup of Ojibwa herbal tea, and meditated in search of the ideal rebuilding mantra.
It's a more constructive way to assess the hallucinogenic bug-out of last night. The Lakers – a near-sureshot to finish with the worst record in franchise history – molly-whopped the Knicks 127-96. In the third quarter, the purple and gold scored 51 points, both a Lakers record and the most the Knicks had ever given up in a 12-minute span. In a season of abject misery, the Lakers had their purest sensation of transcendental harmony. It was like listening to Alice Coltrane and watching the sunrise on a headful of acid with Swaggy P materializing in the face of the flames.
This Lakers season has come untethered from the laws of natural logic. It probably happened mid-season, when the team couldn't field enough players to finish the game (Robert Sacre was allowed to stay in after fouling out), yet still managed to win. Earlier this month, the Clippers beat the Lakers by a record-breaking 48 points. Last week, the Spurs came to town and dismantled them with the robotic poetry of a German jazz quintet.
Almost player on this roster has missed serious time due to injury. Pau Gasol was sidelined for last night's game due to vertigo, the first time anyone has been diagnosed with that malady since Lucille Ostero. The team is one road trip away from losing players to scurvy and the German measles. Even Swaggy P's Red October Air Yeezy 2's were stolen in a home invasion robbery last Sunday. Nothing is sacred.
No one can empathize like Knicks fans. Both marquee teams in the largest media markets are controlled by erratic scions, led by (semi) lame duck coaches, and have oversized fan expectations. There's too much money at stake to rebuild, which leads to quick-fix solutions, rash hires, and salary cap bloat. The Knicks hired Phil Jackson because they need to retain their soon-to-be free agent superstar (Carmelo Anthony) and present some semblance of stability. Also, he has 11 rings and a solid reading list.
Of course, stability is something the Lakers have lacked since Jackson left after the 2011 season. There's an ideal alternate 2014 where the Zenmaster is still sultanically perched on his sideline high chair. Maybe Dwight Howard re-signed and Kobe Bryant never blew out his Achilles, and the Staples Center water fountains are filled with Fanta. Or maybe Jim Buss relinquished control of basketball operations to the greatest coach in history, thereby restoring the Lakers gilded burnish and ensuring that the organization remains proudly 420 Friendly.
But this is a Lakers season where Staples Center is usually bizarre, unsettling and frequently grotesque. Rock bottom is always in plain sight in every 20-point blowout and LMFAO fan dance-off. It's why the Lakers evanescent moment of dominance is worth celebrating, even though the team is lottery-bound, schizophrenic, and probably destined for another sub-par season next year.
In ten years time, someone will remember last night's Lakers game with a mystified yet reverent what the fuck? Did the Lakers really shoot 64 percent from 3-point land and score more points in a quarter than many teams in the NCAA tournament get in a game? And did they do it with a starting lineup of Jordan Hill, Chris Kaman, Jodie Meeks, Kendall Marshall, and Wesley Johnson? Did this photo really occur on earth?
Common sense demands that the team to tank. With only a dozen games left, the Lakers could almost guarantee themselves a top-5 pick if they fell back. But there's something inspiring if not illogical in watching them thrash. Many of the players won't return. As Mike D' Antoni pointed out in the post-game conference: “they know these final games are an audition for the other 29 general managers in the league.” Or, as Swaggy P advised the team before the game, they need to spoil other team's playoff hopes by being “Player Haters of the Year.”
So there was no shortage of surreal moments. Trade throw-in (and Chance the Rapper doppelganger) Kent Bazemore popped threes in Melo's face. Swaggy P hit four point plays and did jubilant half-Rufio half-Rooster dances. Chris Kaman was a a Yeti beast hitting reverse lay-ups. Xavier Henry attacked mercilessly. The ball movement was lightning and the closest they've ever come to fulfilling D' Antoni's Italo-disco fast-break prophecy. No player took more than 14 shots and five players cracked double digits (Bazemore, Swaggy P, Kaman, Meeks Xavier Henry).
Maybe the Knicks are just that bad. They're the sort of collection of faded stars and one-way players built for a 2008 fantasy basketball league. With every one-on-one isolation, you could see that coach Mike Woodson has long lost them. When J.R. Smith and Melo are in retrograde, they can be very good, but mostly they're an example of the ills of unfettered capitalism and nepotism. You can say the same thing about the Lakers and you'd probably be right. But they fight hard and when they haven't been unwatchable, they've been entertaining
When you've only won 24 games, you learn to savor the odd 48 minutes of solid basketball that you get. No Lakers fan with any sense of self-awareness wants sympathy. The franchise will inevitably ride out this cycle and eventually lure a few free agent stars through the power of sun, ocean, and the chance to appear on-screen as a rapping genie.
But during what might be the worst season in Lakers history, it was nice to remember what's it like to be good.