The Lakers are terrifying. Don’t be fooled by the final score. This game was a lot closer than the 110-82 score will lead you to believe. Well, at least for the first half. But that’s the Lakers. They’ll let you hang around until they finally decide to crush you.
This game was hyped as a playoff preview. It did not disappoint. The crowd was in it from tipoff, and you could feel and see the energy in the arena. The Mavs had beaten the Clippers the night before in the same building, but that was like a shootaround compared to this.
No offense to the Clippers, who I actually enjoy watching now, but they’re just not at the Lakers' level. Actually, IS there anybody else at the Lakers' level? In a seven-game series? They look formidable.
Things got off to a brisk start with both teams making shots and playing well, but the Lakers busted it open in the third, and it looked like the Mavs got frustrated.
I mean there is just no answer for the Lamar Odom/Pau Gasol/Andrew Bynum triumvirate when those three have it going. There was one point with a little over four minutes left in the first half where Bynum somehow got a bucket in heavy traffic baseline. Cut to a shot of Pau with a knowing smile, and Kobe and the bench going nuts.
I can’t explain it, but when Bynum is clicking, it electrifies this team. It’s been so fun to watch his basketball acumen catch up to his physical abilities. I bet that has a little something to do with the guy who has been mentoring him, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. You might have heard of him.
So we hit halftime at 54-51 and then back for the second half. Kobe missed a couple of easy baskets in this game. I actually love it when that happens, because he gets so mad at himself that it renews his resolve to kick butt. And sure enough, he doubled down on defense and got a couple of incredible steals. The Lakers got serious and started to pull away in the third.
And then in the fourth, things went nuts. It all started with Jason Terry shoving Steve Blake to the ground as Blake was driving to the basket. Blake stepped back to him, Matt Barnes got involved and next thing you know, four players are ejected. And that’s not all! A little later, Shannon Brown was thrown out too. Things got pretty chippy. That’s five ejections and three technicals by my count.
In the midst of all this insanity, if you don’t think Kobe Bryant is the alpha male on this team, you haven’t been paying attention. When the skirmish started, TNT’s cameras caught Kobe’s gesture to the players sitting on the bench at the time to hold their fire and not run out on the court. Smart. He obviously could tell things were getting out of hand. No need to have more players involved and thrown out, fined or hurt.
In the end, the Lakers get the win and the two-time defending champs put the league on notice that they do not plan on surrendering it without a fight. They are locked in.
The way I see it, the only weakness the Lakers have is that they can get burned by speed. They can keep up if they have to, but it’s not really their strong suit.
Recall the track meet that was the triple overtime game against the Suns a few days back. Or better yet, think about Oklahoma City. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are like whippets, they’re so fast. And oh, yeah, they can shoot a little.
But the Lakers are smart. Basketball smart. I think that’s sometimes overlooked. And it’s easy to see why. There are so many distractions around the Lakers—reality TV, movie stars in the front row, perfumes, CDs, photo shoots, commercials, charity events, to say nothing of the non-stop crazy that is being the biggest sports headliner in Hollywood.
But they have basketball smarts, which was never more apparent than in the game last night. At one point, the Mavs started to gain a little bit of steam and Phil Jackson (without even needing to call a timeout!) gestured to the guys on court to regain control of the tempo of the game. Done.
I won’t be surprised if they suffer a letdown in Salt Lake City. Or against Denver for that matter. I know it’s fun to get on the “let’s keep winning till the playoffs” bandwagon, but that’s not really that important. And the Lakers know it—best expressed by both Kobe and Derek Fisher.
Both have stated that the collective team attitude is just to go out each game and play smart defense-oriented basketball. That’s really all that they can control. Jockeying for seeding isn’t productive. Let the playoff seedings fall where they may. They’ll cross that bridge when it’s time. For now? Each man does his job, plays defense and the rest will take care of itself. Pretty good plan, don’t you think?
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