Well, I was kinda hoping for a little more from the Lakers against the Magic. The first half wasn’t bad, but the second half left a lot to be desired. I wouldn’t say they looked gassed, more like they just kind of lost interest. It’s one of the most maddening things about being a Laker fan. The Lakers are so good, that they have a terrible habit of phoning it in sometimes.
I live in Los Angeles. The Lakers own this town. Let me repeat. The Lakers own this town.
And that’s saying something in the land of movie stars and millionaires. But people here like the Lakers because they have historically been such a success. They win. In that, they are a lot like the New York Yankees. Anything less than a championship is a failed season. Throw your mind back to 2008 and losing in the finals to Boston if you need proof of that. We can get a little greedy when every night isn’t a W.
So, there’s kind of this nervous undercurrent surrounding this season that wasn’t present last year during the repeat run. As the calendar flips, the pressure amps. We (the fans) all engage in a sort of “was that the game where they flipped the switch?” analysis after each win.
Let the record state that I do think this past Boston win is just that. I know Boston was banged up, but if you pay attention to this Laker team, you can instantly sense when they are engaged. It was a quality win, followed up by a nice curtain call in Madison Square Garden.
It was good to see a happy Kobe in the fourth quarter at MSG, game in hand, already getting his knees iced.
By the way, with all the technological advances in sports, improvements like better helmets, shoes, equipment, everything, we’re still in the dark ages with icing? I often wonder if late in the game, some ball boy is dispensed to the concession stand with the following instructions, “Grab two 20 lb bags of ice and report back. Chop, chop.” And next thing you know they’re strapped to Kobe’s knees. But I digress.
So back to Orlando…the fall-off in energy from the Lakers was palpable in the second half. Momentum shifted to the Magic (and full credit to Dwight Howard, who played a great game).
However, the thing that surprised me the most was Phil Jackson pulling Kobe with just a little under four minutes to go. He was basically conceding. I cannot remember the last time that happened and that Kobe didn’t go nuts with his trademark Black Mamba scowl.
It seemed a little risk averse, but maybe after just beating Boston a few days prior and then surely catching some of the extremely chippy Heat-Celtics game earlier in the day, the thinking was, “Why kill ourselves here? Let Boston, Miami, Chicago and Orlando do our dirty work for us beating each other up.”
Kind of makes sense. The Lakers have bigger fish to fry in the west. Dallas and San Antonio are legit and I am terrified of the speed of Oklahoma City. They gave the Lakers a real scare in the playoffs last year. Maybe it’s “win the West, then worry about the East?” Only time will tell.
Apparently, Kobe said later that he was a little irked, but basically understood the move. I think that’s part of a more mature Kobe-Phil partnership. Five years ago, Kobe would have clawed his way off the bench, taken over the scoring and probably won the game. It’s taken a while to get here, and moves like that will NEVER sit well with a competitor such as Kobe, but I think he and Phil are finally on the same page strategically.
The point of the trip was to beat the Celtics. Any other wins are nice, but now is not the time to add unnecessary mileage to anybody’s odometer in what at that point looked to be a loss for LA. Instead, let the bench get some minutes and then everybody get home and get some rest over the All Star Break.
The balance of February shapes up nicely and then it’s back on the road to face San Antonio, Miami and Dallas. That stretch will really tell us what we’re looking at for the playoff run. Phil knows that and Kobe does too.