The Los Angeles Lakers: The Psychology of Champions
Many observers this season have written about how the Lakers are playing below par. Teams are apparently finding weaknesses in the Lakers. According to the critics, the Lakers' interior is too soft with Pau Gasol patrolling the paint. The point guard play of Derek Fisher is downright terrible as he lets opposing point guard after opposing point guard cruise to the lane.
Kobe Bryant shoots too much and he prevents effective and efficient ball movement. These same critics say that the Lakers don't have the heart or the toughness to be champions.
These Lakers are just too damn good. Everyone worrying over the Lakers' struggles need to relax. The Lakers are bored. They are going through the motions. They are waiting for the playoffs to begin. See, for the champs, that's what they play for: Championships.
The Denver Nuggets have looked unbelievable against the Lakers this season. They have looked invincible in their two wins over the Lakers and looked great in their one loss to the Lakers. By contrast, the Lakers have looked lethargic and bored. Even the energy and insults thrown at the Lakers by Nuggets players such as J.R. Smith were not enough for the Lakers to muster up a response.
Why should they?
What incentive do the Lakers have to expend incredible energy and effort to beat the Nuggets in the regular season?
Pursuit of excellence, maybe.
Or maybe they should do it to prevent the Nuggets from gaining confidence.
But the Lakers know that the Nuggets can't beat them in the playoffs. What does it matter if Denver thinks they can?
You see, the champs play ever single regular season game as if it is a regular season game. Every single one of their opponents have played the games against the Lakers as if it were game seven of the NBA Finals.
Every opponent circles the Lakers on the calendar. The Lakers are THE test. They are the measuring stick by which other teams evaluate themselves. The Lakers circle no opponent. Every night—whether they play against New Jersey or Cleveland—the Lakers get each opponents A-game.
The opponents of the Lakers attach much more significance to the game than the Lakers do.
For example, if Charlotte beats the Lakers as they have done this season, it is the highlight of their year. If the Lakers beat Charlotte, it wouldn't even generate a page worth of discussion on a NBA sports forum.
Sure, the Lakers ought to play up to their standards every night—and some nights they do. They probably should match the energy of their opponents. But it is probably also true that the Lakers simply cannot match the energy of their opponents.
Not in the regular season.
While Denver plays each game against the Lakers as if it is life or death, the Lakers know that when the war needs to be won, it has crushed Denver in four and six games respectively.
So, credit Denver and the other teams that have beaten the Lakers.
A win is a win.
But also credit the Lakers. They have faced opponents 65 times this season. That's 65 times that an opponent has played harder and hungrier than they play against anyone else.
Despite facing that challenge and despite playing every regular season game as if it were a regular season game, the Lakers have won 72.3 percent of the time. That will put them around 59-60 wins at the end of the season and good for second best record in the league. Not exactly chopped liver.
In 1999-00, The Lakers won 67 games. They were the epitome of a machine in the regular season, much like last year's Lakers. Unstoppable is what people said about them. Many analysts thought the Lakers might run the table in the playoffs.
But the post season was much different. The Lakers almost got eliminated in the first round against the Sacramento Kings and had to come back from down 15 in the fourth quarter to win game seven against Portland in the Western Conference Finals. Dominant regular season; pushed to the bring of defeat in the postseason.
See, the 1999-00 Lakers didn't get every opponents best shot each night. They were respected, but not feared. They weren't the champs. Teams had every reason to believe they could beat the Lakers in the post season and two of them almost did.
Then the Lakers got that champagne in their mouths. They got the taste of the championship. After beating Portland, they coasted through the finals much like Los Angeles did in the finals last season against Orlando. That '99-'00 squad knew then that they were better than everyone else. They had proven it. Now all they had to do was defend the title.
The next season in '00-'01, the Lakers had all sorts of trouble. Teams were beating them left and right. Laker fans wanted the whole team traded. Their effort was questioned. Teammates said Kobe should shoot less. The lack of ball movement was criticized. People said Fisher was too slow. Shaquille was soft on defense and took possessions off.
But really, the Lakers played the regular season as if it were the regular season. Every other team played them every single game as if it were game seven of the finals.
The Lakers only won 56 games that season. That's after winning 67 the year before.
Clearly, the '00-01 Laker team wasn't as good as the 99-00 team, right?
The 2000-01 Laker team knew one thing: that they were better than everybody else. They didn't think it; they knew it. Other teams were confident in the playoffs. After all, they had seen the Lakers in the regular season and beaten them.
Still, they forgot one thing. They had beaten the Lakers while playing their best ball, but they had not seen the Lakers at their best. And in the playoffs, where it was the Lakers at their best versus the opponents at their best, there was no contest.
That 56-win team still holds the best post season record of ALL TIME at 15-1 (.937) en route to a back to back title.
This season, what is being said about the Lakers? "Kobe shoots too much." "We need more team ball movement." "There's not enough energy." "They aren't playing to their standards."
It is just the regular season. Phil Jackson is the coach and Kobe Bryant is the leader. There is no need to panic.
The Lakers can question themselves and you can question the Lakers, but the fact remains that at their best, they are flat out better than everybody else.
And they know it.
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