Strange days and low expectations for new-look Lakers
By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - These are very strange times for Los Angeles Lakers fans, with many of them holding surprisingly low expectations for this season after becoming accustomed to their team repeatedly reaching the NBA Finals.
Sixteen NBA championship banners hang proudly from the rafters at the Lakers' Staples Center home, proof positive of the glittering success achieved by the franchise, but the chance of a 17th being added any time soon seems remote.
The ageing Lakers are now a team in transition and even their most ardent fan would probably view a playoff spot as the best that can be hoped for going into their 2013-14 campaign.
With 15-time All-Star shooting guard Kobe Bryant sidelined since mid-April with a torn left Achilles' tendon and still weeks away from returning to action, the men in purple and gold have made a stuttering 2-2 start to the new season.
Though they beat the mediocre Atlanta Hawks 105-103 at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles on Sunday, they made heavy weather of a game they led by 21 points early in the second quarter.
Kyle Korver poured in two late three-pointers to help the Hawks tie things up at 103-103 on a Paul Millsap jump shot with 35.3 seconds left before Pau Gasol spared Lakers blushes with consecutive free throws after a Millsap blocking foul.
Free throws, in fact, were a welcome lifeline for Los Angeles on the night as they made a stunning 20 of 24 while being outshot by their opponents, both from the field and from beyond the arc.
The official attendance was listed as a sellout of 18,997 but several seats were empty in the upper stands, further evidence that all is not well in the Lakers empire. Continued...