“Want my team to stop shinin. Pray my fame start declining. Whinin like girlies.” – Notorious B.I.G “Pray For My Downfall”
The 2010-2011 Los Angeles Lakers demise was greatly exaggerated and a bit premature.
A season that began with Chris Paul rocking a Lakers uniform is now at its midway point, and guess what, people? The Lakers are in a dogfight for first place in the Pacific Division.
Making things even more interesting is the fact they are battling with the very team the aforementioned Paul was “allowed” to play for.
So once the smoke cleared, the team loved by some and hated by many still have life in those old weary legs. Only in sports is age and experience viewed as a detriment to success.
The media has this tendency to pray for a team’s downfall based solely on the fact that they want something new. Yes, this group of Lakers are more flawed than any Lakers squad in recent history, and yes, they are about as exciting to watch as the Golden Girls—but they win.
While the world focuses on who said what about whom in Laker-land, this current group of purple and gold players have managed to not only win but actually contend. Much to the chagrin of the basketball world, the boys from LA are still alive.
Voided of any game-changing athleticism and robbed of any consistent relevant point guard play, they have managed to contend for a division crown.
Guided by the selfish defiance of Kobe Bryant, the surprisingly stout Andrew Bynum and the timely play of Pau Gasol late in games, the Lakers have shown they are still a worthy opponent for the top teams in the Western Conference.
Their style of play is tough on the eyes, and if it were not for Bryant, they would resemble a team from an Indiana high school catholic league. Yet, through all their strife, they sit tied with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Statistically, the Lakers rank 22nd in points per game, 15th in offensive rating, 11th in field-goal percentage and 14th in total assists. Those numbers are not reason to panic, but anyone who has watched the Lakers play realizes they have struggled mightily at times on the offensive end.
The story is simple—they have very little guard penetration and few transition buckets. The bulk of the LA’s offense is built inside out in conjunction with quarterly freelancing from Kobe Bryant. The Lakers rank third in the league in made shots from 15 feet in, but 29th in the league in made shots at the rim.
The contrast in those two statistics is telling and reconfirms that they are now Bynum and Gasol's team. Yes, the Bean is needed to keep teams honest, but to win games, the bigs are have to play big.
In short, Bryant has become the butter while Gasol and Bynum are the guns.
The issues at point guard, small forward and Bryant’s age have affected the Lakers’ activity on offense, forcing them to focus on Bynum and Gasol, who to this point have delivered. Trade rumors have derailed Gasol of late, but as a unit, LA has won five of their last six.
Regardless of the circumstances, Los Angeles has proven they will respond and compete. Now with the second half of the season on the horizon and with 17 of their remaining 33 games against teams with winning records, the Lakers still have a tough road ahead.
However, there should be no doubt that once the season ends, they will be one of the final four teams playing in the Western Conference playoffs.
In LA, all that matters is titles. Playoff appearances and 50-win seasons mean nothing to the fans of the purple and gold. So while pundits and fans expected, predicted and prayed for the Lakers to fall off, sadly they are still breathing.
Depending on whom you ask, the Lakers are where they are supposed to be, but where are they headed is in question.
No one believes the Lakers would lose in the first round to the Clippers if they met in the playoffs. The second round, based on current records, would place them against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and it is not unfathomable for the Lakers to claim that series. Just like that, the Purple Reign could be back in the Western Conference finals.
So before we hand the division over to "Lob City" and continue to leave the Lakers for dead, let’s all give the season a chance to play out. Before we change the channel on one of the longest-running soap operas in television history, let’s see how this episode ends.
The beauty about sports is opinions never win games only the players decide who is fit to be king.