February 28, 2024

We talkin’ about the Lakers unveiling a banner to celebrate winning the NBA’s first in-season tournament?

Really?

The Lakers — the 17-time NBA world champion Lakers — hanging something on the wall at Crypto.com Arena other than an 18th NBA championship banner?

That feels beneath them. Trivial.

But there it was Monday night, no doubt at the insistence of the league, revealed after a brief ceremony that included video highlights of the tournament and an appearance by the trophy they had hoisted after they beat Indiana on Dec. 9 in Las Vegas.

The modestly sized banner, in black and gold, is grouped with banners honoring the five titles the Lakers won while based in Minneapolis and it has room to add the years of future triumphs. Given the competitive and ratings success of the first edition of the tournament and commissioner Adam Silver’s strong backing of his pet project, it’s pretty much a lock that there will be other tournaments in the years to come.

“It’s the first one and it was cool,” Lakers guard Austin Reaves said of the appropriately brief pregame ceremony.

“It was cool to be a part of winning that and that whole deal, but now that’s over and we’ve got to focus on the season and try and hang another one up at the end of the year.”

Those are the ones that matter. At the rate the Lakers are going, the in-season tournament banner might not get any company soon.

The night they displayed the new banner wasn’t a banner night for the Lakers, whose 114-109 loss to the New York Knicks on Monday was their third loss in four post-tournament games. A hectic schedule that has been heavy on road games has combined with seasonal illnesses, nagging injuries and fatigue to rattle their rhythm and take some of the edge off their game.

“We’ve seen what we can do when we’re 100% healthy. We’ve just got to get there. Keep fighting,” Anthony Davis said after scoring a game-high 32 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. “There’s nothing more we can say or do. Just take the challenge.”

The in-season tournament bragging rights are nice, but they’ve come with a cost of extra mileage on already-weary legs and minds.

“I think it could be a little bit of everything,” LeBron James said after his 25-point, 11-rebound, 11-assist performance, his second triple-double this season and 109th regular-season triple-double of his career. “I don’t know. Have you seen Indiana’s record since Vegas?”

Why, yes. The Pacers are 1-4. Misery apparently has company.

“I’m not one to use excuses,” coach Darvin Ham said of the Lakers’ performances since their tournament triumph. “I thought the way we played during that time was great. We were whole. Had some unfortunate tweaks here and there and now unfortunate sickness or whatever. But we knew the games were interwoven.

“Las Vegas wasn’t a long flight for us but it’s just obviously being within the normal schedule, it’s going to have an effect, be it positive or negative. I thought it was more positive than negative for sure, but that said, there is a travel schedule.”

And they have miles to go before they sleep. They’ll play back-to-back games Wednesday and Thursday at Chicago and Minnesota before finishing a trip at Oklahoma City. Then it’s back home to face the Boston Celtics in a Christmas Day matinee. “Nobody’s going to feel sorry for you,” Ham said, truthfully.

On Monday they trailed by 12 in the second quarter, led by one at the half, and cut what was a 10-point deficit after three quarters to four with 3 minutes and 38 seconds left in the fourth quarter. It was a game of runs, as Ham loves to say, and the Lakers were outrun by the Knicks, who bounced back well from a 144-122 thrashing they took from the Clippers last Saturday.

“We competed and gave ourselves a chance to stay in the game but that was a tough one for us,” James said.

“We’ve got to get some rest and get healthy. Finish out December the right way. Obviously it’s been a killer for us with the travel and games and things of that nature, so no rest for the weary. You’ve just got to mentally stay locked in and get ready for Chicago first.”

Despite the downside of the extra effort and travel the tournament required, James said he enjoyed the ceremony Monday and what it represented.

“I think it was awesome. To acknowledge wins throughout the course of a marathon, I think it’s pretty cool, and that’s the first, the inauguration of it and we was able to win it,” he said. “For our fans that didn’t get an opportunity to be in Vegas, they get an opportunity to kind of share that celebration with us tonight. Share that moment. Something that will live on forever, for sure. It was a good moment.”

The Lakers have to hope winning the banner they displayed Monday won’t take a long-term toll and hurt their chances of earning a bigger and more important banner later.

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