The Lakers are dead...finished...done...kaput. They won't even get out of the first round of the playoffs. At least these are the things that the Talking Heads, Lakers Haters, BCS Pollsters (they need something to do until August) and even some overly-demanding Lakers fans are saying.
The death knells of imminent doom are being sounded from coast to coast for a team that COULD win 60 games, have (as of this writing) a five game lead over the Mavs and Suns for the best record in the West with six games remaining, and will likely wind up with the second best record in the NBA.
But yet...they suck?
Perception is reality...if you're not properly evaluating reality.
The popular perception of the Lakers stems from one fact: they haven't played well since the All-Star break. Therefore, conventional sports wisdom says that momentum thing that most everyone harps on heading into the playoffs, but then forgets because it doesn't matter once the playoffs begin, says the Lakers are doomed.
Reality, however, imparts the following, more pertinent facts:
-Phil Jackson is a genius, one who knows that the way-too-long NBA regular season will pound a team into the ground if achieving regular-season greatness becomes a team's No. 1 goal. So, while he's publicly complaining about his team's performance, deep down, he's not been really pushing them to excel beyond securing a high seed in the West.
-The Lakers haven't been healthy. Despite averaging 27.3 points/game, the "new $90 Million Man" has played most of the season with a myriad of injuries, including a broken finger on his shooting hand. They haven't "seen" Andrew Bynum for weeks. "Son of a Bill" Walton has been in the broadcast booth and on "The Young & the Restless", among other non-playing places since...well...before the Republicans vowed that Health Reform would never pass.
Bynum and his 15 points/game and defensive presence (and his foul-proneness), despite the mind games that The Zen Master is playing with the media, will be back for the playoffs. Walton and his "whopping" 2.4 points/game will be back tomorrow (Sunday) for the Spurs' game.
-Pre-infirmary-releases, the Lakers' is terrible. Right now, Phil has to actually play Mbenga and Powell in non-blowouts. Meanwhile, Sasha "The Mouth" Vujacic has been in Phil's "You're not playing, regardless of the score of game" doghouse.
Bynum's return will mean Gasol can move from center (and off "CSI: Miami"), where he's a whiny flopper, back to power forward where he's an All-Star matchup nightmare for opponents. Lamar Odom can move back to the bench where he's arguably the best sixth man in the NBA. "Son of Bill" simply provides a body with good defensive energy who also understands Phil's complicated "Triangle" offense and gives the starting bigs quality rest without needing to use Mbenga or Powell, .neither of which should even be in the D League. Whether Vujacic quits arguing with the coaches and gets back to playing his little bit remains to be seen.
Regardless, the Lakers' playoff bench will be a great deal more effective than has been their late-regular season bench.
-The new $90 Million Man aka The Black Mamba,.is pissed. No, not at his new contract extension, but at the way he and, more so, his teammates are playing. Kobe isn't MJ, but they share many of the same qualities. One of those qualities is that when they're pissed approaching the playoffs, they and their teams mysteriously play well during the playoffs. It's called "Leadership of an Assassin". As "Bron Bron" will do in Cleveland, Kobe will put his team on his (aching) back and carry them to the NBA Finals.
Lights on, subject closed, until June anyway.