Sunday, May 08, 2011

The Mother's Day Massacre

At one point Ron Artest stole the ball at mid-court and broke to the hole, looking to score an easy breakaway basket. He jumped to dunk the ball... but could not get it over the rim. That was the story of the afternoon for the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Lakers looked exhausted and confused, as they have looked for most of the games since that splendid 17-1 run after the All-Star break that had us all convinced the champs were the team to beat. They looked like they were already booking their hotels in Hawaii and breaking out the fishing rods.

The Mavs shot lights out. The final score was 122-86.

It was the most painful game I think I've ever watched. Odom and Bynum got ejected for cheap frustration plays. Bynum's flagrant foul was especially ugly, as he slammed his forearm into Barea's exposed ribs when Barea went up for a basket in the paint. Then Bynum took his shirt off as he walked out, looking like a punk with no class. As a Lakers fan, I was embarrassed.

Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register reported before the game:
Magic Johnson, who has sold his minority ownership of the Lakers to Patrick Soon-Shiong but still has a title with the team, made strong comments Saturday on ESPN about the need to break up the team if it is eliminated from the playoffs.

Johnson alluded to needing to find players hungrier for championships and trading either Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum.

“Group has probably been together too long. … Probably have to blow this team up,” Johnson said.

Phil Jackson responded Sunday about the comments: “They were uncalled for at this time. Not surprised.”
Phil is not surprised that Magic made uncalled for comments. Phil is right: if the Lakers were to attempt a comeback, they didn't need comments about blowing the team up. But Magic is right also: changes must be made.

Why did the champions implode? I have to go back to George Karl's diagnosis of mental fatigue. I also suspect Kobe is injured more than we know; he has finger injuries, knee problems and a sprained ankle. The big question is whether there is something more going on in the locker room.

This was not the way Phil Jackson was supposed to end his career.

Throughout the season people talked about the Lakers "flipping a switch." Don't worry about unexplainable bad play -- the Lakers will flip some magic switch and play well. Right. The switch has been flipped, the lights are out and it's dark in here.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Lakers Poised to Make History

In my last post I was realistic about the Lakers, who lost last night to the Mavericks and are now 0-3 in the series. To hell with realism, now I will be a homer, a fan.

The Lakers could win. They need four in a row. No team in NBA history has come back from 0-3, although as Kobe quipped, it happens in hockey all the time. This is highly unlikely, as the Lakers have been playing horribly while the Mavs are firing on all cylinders. Dirk Nowitzky is playing like a superstar.

The Lakers just need to look at the game on Sunday this way. Can they win a game against the Dallas Mavericks? Of course, they can. They have done it before. A game is a game. They can win a game.

Most of all, Pau Gasol must find himself again. He's been a face on a milk carton during the playoffs. No team can lose its second best player and win. (What if the rumors are true that Pau is playing bad because his girlfriend dumped him? Dude, that is so... beta male.)

If the Lakers win on Sunday, they return to Staples Center (not "the" Staples Center, BTW), where they could win again beneath Jack Nicholson's benevolent gaze. Then they go back to Dallas for game six, where the Mavs feel the pressure to win, return to form and collapse. Then it's game seven in LA, the series tied, and the Lakers win a game against a nervous Dallas.

It's as easy as that. The Lakers have Dallas right where they want them.

First, the Lakers need to play for 48 minutes on Sunday, something they have not done. They must find a way to surmount their mental fatigue. They will have to reach down deep and take their execution up a step.

They need to find the heart of a champion. The eye of the tiger. (Have I missed any cliche?) If they find the will to win, it's not impossible that they do it.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Lakers Run Out of Gas?

The 2010-2011 Lakers are the most frustrating team I have ever followed closely. When they show up they are unbeatable. There are too many games, however, when they seem to check out mentally. They don't play with energy and focus, and lose to teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Now in the conference semi-finals, they are down 0-2 to the Dallas Mavericks. The Lakers lost the first two games at home. Mark Medina of the LA Times says the Lakers are done. It's hard to disagree.

On the Stephen A. Smith show a few weeks ago George Karl said the Lakers' problem is mental fatigue. You see, a season is 82 games long. When a team goes to the finals three years in a row, they play extra games. The Lakers have played four seasons in three years.

In this time the Lakers have gotten three years older, too. Kobe's body is banged up after 15 years in the league. Earlier this year he said his knee is bone on bone -- no cartilage left.

It looks like it's all catching up with them. Now on top of it all we hear the team has "trust issues." They don't trust one another. This too might be the result of mental fatigue.

If this series were a Hollywood movie, it would be set up for a big Act III thrilling comeback. The Lakers win three games to bring it to a game 7 and then win on their home court. It could happen. I believe three teams in history have come back after losing the first two at home. Maybe Phil Jackson has some Jedi mind tricks he can play.

I'll be rooting for them on Friday, but realistically, I think Mark Medina is right. The Lakers could show all the heart they can muster, but they just might not have it. You can push the accelerator to the floor, but if there is no gas in the tank...