Former Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers coach Rudy 'T' Tomjanovich once said "Never underestimate the heart of a champion."
He said this in 1995, right after his sixth-seeded Houston Rockets managed to overcome the 60-22 Utah Jazz, the 59-23 Phoenix Suns, the 62-20 San Antonio Spurs and the 57-25 Orlando Magic, beating the teams with the four best records in the NBA and leading his team as the lowest seed to have won a championship. They may have been the reigning 1993-94 NBA champions, but with their dismal record, the Rockets were largely counted out by the time the playoffs arrived.
Fast forward 15 years later, as the 2008 champion Boston Celtics faced off against 2009 champion Los Angeles Lakers to contend for the 2010 title. In a thrilling series between two of the most storied franchises in the NBA, the Lakers managed to beat the Celtics in the last few minutes of game 7 at Staples Center. It was an absolute exhibition of basketball played at its highest level, and the Lakers deserved to win.
However, with the Lakers facing both internal and external pressure, they will be hard pressed to achieve the same amount of success they enjoyed the last few years. Age, complacency and injuries could derail their title quest from within while all the other teams in the NBA are gunning for them.
I would never bet against them, especially with five-time champion Kobe Bryant leading the way, and 16 NBA trophies in their trophy case. For now, they are still the reigning champions and the favorites to retain their title. Nobody should underestimate their heart.
But with the intense amount of pressure they will face this season, that is a monumental task that could ultimately leave them just short of their big prize. With a multitude of obstacles in their way, the Lakers will face stumbling blocks at every point during the season, and I believe that they will ultimately fall just short of expectations.