NBA Playoffs 2012: Los Angeles Lakers and the Effort Required to Win It All

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NBA Playoffs 2012: Los Angeles Lakers and the Effort Required to Win It All
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

So Laker fans...anything going on while I’ve been away? 

Kidding! 

Obviously “the elbow of doom” is the big story.  Or as I call it: The return of Ron Artest.  Sigh.

By now, everyone who follows basketball has seen the replay. I honestly can’t watch it anymore; it is so ugly. 

But the fallout continues.  Metta World Peace’s (deserved) suspension is really going to affect a team that, as recently as last week, I thought had a serious shot to go all the way.

The team was gelling and World Peace was playing some of his best basketball, especially when Kobe Bryant was on the bench.  And now this.  The Lakers margin of error has gone from slim to none.  

And true to Laker form, even in a meaningless final regular season game, the drama continues. 

Kobe and the scoring title:  Will he or won’t he go for it in Sacramento? 

Many people, including me, are convinced he will go for it.  Mamba can easily drop 38 on the Kings, but Kobe says it’s not that big a deal.  And then backs it up with the announcement that he is not planning on playing against Sacramento in the season finale. 

Turns out, rest and not risking injury are more important.  (I secretly think this is a major Mamba power move.  “Sure, Kevin Durant, you can have the scoring title.  Go ahead, it’s all yours.  Just remember, I spotted you seven games.”)

So what to think as we wrap up the regular season and get ready for the postseason?

With the team shorthanded, I think it is going to fall to Kobe and Pau Gasol to set the mental and emotional tone for this playoff run. 

Here’s why:  When Kobe was forced to sit out seven games while his shin healed, I think his relationship with Mike Brown changed.  Actually—Kobe on the bench changed the entire team. 

First, the players had to take a look in the mirror and decide if they had enough in them to win without No. 24. 

Answer: yes. 

Second, Kobe was fully engaged from the sidelines and everybody brought in.  The coaches listened to his observations and heeded his suggestions.  Same for the players. 

It’s one thing to be barked at and given the Kobe Death Glare on the court.  But everybody was pleasantly surprised with how measured, thoughtful and involved he was from the sidelines. 

Ultimately, having Kobe be an active participant in the offensive plans isn’t deferring to your superstar's preferences—it’s using one of the most brilliant minds in basketball to increase your chance of winning games.  It doesn’t make you look weak, it makes you look smart. 

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Everybody’s on the same page now and understands that only maximum effort every game will yield the desired result.  Everyone has to be 100 percent invested.  That’s what was missing last year.  

The Lakers went into New Orleans acting like that series was no big deal and found out in a hurry that Chris Paul meant business.  They beat the Hornets 4-2, but it was a lot closer than that six-game outcome suggests. 

And then, the Mavericks swept them right out of the playoffs. 

You can’t take winning for granted, even if you wear purple and gold.  You have to earn it.

And that’s what I mean about Kobe and Pau setting the tone.  For the new young players, they will see what it looks like to play in the playoffs with a true superstar. 

You have to earn Kobe’s trust and respect.  You do that through your play.  That takes hard work, but it unquestionably elevates your game. Ask Andrew Bynum about that.  

For all the players, I predict Pau Gasol will have a tremendous impact.  Pau is looking for redemption for his awful playoff performance last year.  He has been a model of professionalism throughout this season, even as the nonstop trade rumors swirled. 

I am glad he is still with the Lakers.  He is a living, breathing reminder to both veterans and newcomers that it is a privilege to play in a Laker uniform and should never be taken for granted. 

So, we’ll see, starting Sunday.  The Lakers playoff road does not look easy.  So many factors are now out of their control.  The one thing they do have absolute control over, though, is effort and hustle. 

As the Lakers found out last year, you can’t win a championship without it.

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