NBA 2011-12: Lakers No Longer Pretending, They Really Are Average

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NBA 2011-12: Lakers No Longer Pretending, They Really Are Average
Harry How/Getty Images
Clippers show they are no longer the Lakers little brother.

Their record in the standings is very misleading. This year's Los Angeles Lakers team is starting to resemble the Chicago Bulls in the days of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. To the Laker faithful, that statement would bring excitement and immediate plans for the next Laker parade.

The problem arises when they realize the Bulls team they resemble is before the championships began and Doug Collins, not Phil Jackson, was the head coach.

Those Bulls teams were often referred to as being "Michael and the Jordanaires". The Lakers seem to be on a path to being referred to as "Kobe and some other dudes with Laker jerseys on".

Laker fans and Los Angeles local media, like Max Kellerman of ESPN's sports talk radio show "Max and Marcellus", and Roger Lodge of AM 830's "The Sports Lodge" with Roger Lodge, are known for knowing every aspect of the previous night's Laker game. But now it seems as more and more excuses are replacing sound reasoning and not very well-liked facts about the team.

Last week on Wednesday, the Lakers defeated the Utah Jazz in overtime behind a 48-point performance by Kobe Bryant. On the same evening, the Clippers defeated the Miami Heat in overtime, a team that many project as being this year's NBA champion. Lodge went on and on raving about how special the Lakers are because of their victory, then made excuse after excuse to why the Clippers were victorious.

Laker fans can act ignorant to the product they see on the floor if they want, but when asked about a game in which the Lakers were not on the winning end, the evasive answers that are rendered are signs that they actually know the truth but are failing to admit it. Here are examples of typical questioning following a Laker loss and a non-Laker fan:

Harry How/Getty Images
Averaging 32 points a game may not be enough for Kobe to lead the Lakers to Championship.

Q: Did you see the Lakers lose to the Clippers last night?

A: Kobe scored 40 points again.

When Bryant's individual performance suffices in place of an actual victory for the team, that's a clear sign of ignorance of a team's mediocre state. Bryant is to be commended for his current scoring rampage, but when analyzed a little deeper, this statistic of scoring again points to the fact that the Lakers, as a team, are a little better than average.

Bryant must score close to 40 points to give the team a chance to win. He is literally carrying this team with his damaged wrist. He's shooting a fairly better-than-average 46 percent from the field while chucking up bricks from beyond the three-point-line at a dismal 25 percent and taking 25 shots a game.

His latest string of 40-point games have all but one come against teams that are not likely to make the playoffs (Cavs, Jazz and Suns, with the Clippers being the exception).

Q: Did you see the Lakers lose to the Clippers last night?

A: This was our first loss in six games.

Very true, but again, a statistic that is very misleading. My college coach at Cal State San Bernardino, Reggie Morris, used to say "The stats predict...the tape convicts". The Lakers are currently 9-5, with this latest winning streak coming against teams with below .500 records or are not projected to make the playoffs.

In the string of wins, the Lakers defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers (5-6), the Memphis Grizzlies (5-6, not expected to make the playoffs with the injury to Zach Randolph), the Golden State Warriors (3-8), the Phoenix Suns (4-7) and the Utah Jazz (7-4, but many expect them to fall out of playoff contention after the All-Star break).

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Most of the Laker victories have come over teams with below .500 records.

The winning streak was bookended by losses to two teams that are definitely making their claim as the new legitimate contenders in the western conference; the Portland Trail Blazers (7-5) and the Clippers (6-3).

Q: Did you see the game last night? Kobe needed some help, don't you think?

A: Bynum will be an All-Star this year.

Again, a very likely fact, but yet another avoidance of the truth. He will indeed be an All-Star, but only by default. Today's NBA is void of high-caliber centers. The point guard position has surfaced as the most important position on the team.

Bynum is averaging a little over 13 rebounds per game, which is impressive, but is only contributing 15 points per game. He does not dominate his position on a consistent basis, and more often than not, he just blends in. His performance is not what Laker fans are used to at the center position.

If Bynum played power forward, he would not make the All-Star team. His lack of consistent play is why many in Los Angeles are still calling for some kind of trade that will bring Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard to L.A. and send Andrew elsewhere.

The Lakers will undoubtedly make the playoffs this year, but expect them to enter somewhere between the fourth and sixth (currently fifth) seed. It would not be surprising if Bryant suffered a more serious injury than the already pretty serious injury to his wrist he currently endures.

The burden he carries from game to game is tremendous, and with the pace of the shortened season combined with his age and number of years in the league, "Father Time" is due to make an appearance.

TNT analyst and NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley said it best in an interview on the ESPN radio show "The Scott Van Pelt Show", on whether or not Bryant can keep up this current pace of scoring and carrying the team, "All I know is there is only one person I know on earth that is always undefeated, that's Father Time".

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