Oh no, it’s panic time in Lakers Land again. Someone alert the media. Call in the cavalry.
We have never seen anything like this: Lakers losing five in a row (heading into last night’s game at Staples Center against the San Antonio Spurs) for the first time in four years. What kind of a send-off party for Phil Jackson is this?
With the NBA playoffs due to start this weekend, what are we to make of this sudden collapse by the two-time defending champion Lakers? Does their shoddy play dating all the way back one week to April 3 foretell of a bigger disaster and early exit from the postseason for Kobe Bryant and company?
If I didn’t know any better, I would say that it’s quittin’ time, that the Lakers of today are not the same team that won back-to-back titles and were favored to win a third straight at the beginning of this season. But I think I do know better.
What my instincts tell me is that the Lakers are playing possum; in other words, the team that lost its fifth straight Sunday to the Thunder is the same team that rattled off 17 wins in 18 games since the All-Star break in February. Only now they are conserving energy, laying in wait for the playoffs and their first-round victim.
The Los Angeles Lakers will win their third consecutive world championship. There are at least 10 reasons why that will happen, and divine intervention is not one of them. Read on and take note.
Andrew Bynum is ready for his close-up.
Except for a disappearing act in a loss to Portland when he scored just three points and fouled out of the game, the Lakers' starting center has remained dominant on the glass during the team's recent skid. He averaged 15 rebounds per game over that five-game stretch, including 23 in L.A.'s one-point loss to Utah.
The Lakers should look to Bynum more on offense—he needs touches to succeed. If he can continue to score 10-to-15 points per night, Bynum will be a force for opponents throughout the playoffs.
It took Bynum a couple of months to find his legs, but it appears that he's ready to go and eager to prove his worth during the postseason. Aside from Dwight Howard, there really are no other centers in the league that can stay with him.
Bynum aggravated his right knee in Tuesday's win over the Spurs, but told Lakers coach Phil Jackson at halftime that he would be OK, which Jackson in turn told Cheryl Miller of TNT after the third quarter. He will not travel to Sacramento for the season finale tonight, but look for Bynum to be ready for the postseason this weekend.
The Lakers start a front line that includes the bookend seven footers—Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum—and small forward in Ron Artest. Gasol and Bynum together represent over 14 feet of quickness, length, wingspan, accurate passing and interior force.
Should Bynum not be available—he injured his right knee Tuesday night in the first half against the Spurs—the Lakers will turn to Lamar Odom to start. Odom would take Gasol's spot at power forward with Pau moving into the middle.
The team knows how to play with injuries. Bynum was on the sidelines when the Lakers beat the Orlando Magic two years ago for the title.
Odom is just under seven feet and has a much stronger all-around offensive game than Bynum. What the team would give up in bulk, they would more than make up for in speed and scoring from the outside that Odom would bring.
He's won 11 championships in 20 seasons as a head coach in the NBA and yet has only been voted Coach of the Year once. Go figure.
Phil Jackson has won over 70 percent of the games he has coached in the NBA. Not too bad for a University of North Dakota graduate who was primarily a utility power forward during his 12-year career, 10 with the New York Knicks. Jackson, who averaged just 6.7 points per game as a player, has won 1,153 as a coach.
Jackson preaches living in the moment—well, this is his moment to shine. He's at the end of an illustrious career that is sure to put him unanimously into the NBA's Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible.
The expression is that players, not coaches, win championships. They are the ones out on the court who have to make the shots and play defense. Yet it's certainly no coincidence that victories and titles have followed Phil Jackson from Chicago to Los Angeles.
Counting his two world championships as a player for the Knicks, Jackson has 13 rings, which is more than he has fingers. He certainly wouldn't mind No. 14, which would be his fourth three-peat as a coach.
They are never easy, but the motivation to win another may be enough for the Lakers' official Zen Master.
If you see the positive side of this recent losing steak, you see a team that can get just as hot in a hurry and run off a tremendous number of wins.
The Lakers as a team are all about rhythm. For those who are quick to forget, the Lakers looked horrible in their last few games before the All-Star break and were embarrassed by the Cleveland Cavaliers before heading back to Los Angeles.
The same group of players came back after the break and proceeded to go on an absolute tear. Aside from a loss to the Miami Heat, the Lakers did not lose a game until April 3 when Denver's Kenyon Martin put back a missed Nuggets free throw in the final seconds to ice the win.
Twelve of the Lakers' 17 wins during that stretch came against teams with records above .500.
In three years with the Lakers, Pau Gasol has gone from being a seven-footer who could score facing the basket to a complete player who plays tough defense and can win championships.
If the Lakers win it all this year, Gasol will be a perfect three for three. He's stepped up his play every year since coming over to Los Angeles from Memphis in February of 2008.
Gasol is one of the most consistent players—his 18.8-point average this year compares with 18.3 and 18.9 in his previous Lakers seasons. He consistently averages between 53-to-57 percent shooting from the field and 10-to-11 rebounds.
The Lakers will rely heavily on Gasol if they are to three-peat. He has shown no signs of being anything other than the All-Star, all-around threat that he has been since he became a Laker.
Lamar Odom may not only be the NBA's leading sixth man; he may very well be the Lakers' most valuable player this season.
Odom has become a complete, mature player in his 11th year. He averages 14.2 points in 32 minutes and is equally adept starting or coming off the bench.
Odom has been Mr. Consistent off the bench, gathering 8.7 rebounds and three assists per game. If Andrew Bynum cannot play or is limited due to injury, Odom will just switch to starter and give the Lakers a 6'11" forward who can also bring the ball up the court.
During the Lakers' long winning steak, the team allowed just 99 points per game. Not coincidentally, Ron Artest found his spring legs and became the defensive stalwart the team knew it had when they signed him as a free agent.
The Lakers will need Artest's intensity and athleticism as a defender to advance and win their third straight title. He has shown that he is still quite capable of putting the clamps on the other teams' top scorers.
Artest has seen his scoring average (8.5) dip below 10 for the first time in his career and he is only shooting 40 percent from the field. But his defense is what the Lakers want as they move forward in the playoffs.
Look for Ron Artest to give the Lakers what they want starting this weekend.
Just another night of fun and games at Staples Center.
The Lakers are a veteran team that thrives on drama and controversy. If it comes too easy, they get lazy and cocky, as Lamar Odom told TNT's Cheryl Miller after their win on Tuesday. Odom also said the team would not win tonight in their regular-season finale against the Kings unless they brought more energy.
Odom also said that all the drama that came with the losing streak was a good thing for the Lakers. If they feel backed up against a wall, the team usually responds well.
They have all the drama they can handle right now. Just what the doctor ordered.
You can see it in his eyes: Derek Fisher is transforming into playoff mode and that can only be good for the Los Angeles Lakers.
The 36-year-old Fisher is a career 40-percent shooter from the field. Critics constantly complain about his defense, saying that younger, quicker point guards have a field day going through and around the 6'1" Lakers veteran for easy baskets.
And yet, when it comes playoff time and championships are on the line, there is no one you would rather have in your corner and on your side than Derek Fisher.
He talked with the Miami Heat about signing as a free agent. It's a good thing for the Lakers that he stayed in Los Angeles. He brings passion to this team and even Kobe Bryant looks to him as the team leader. That says so much.
He may be 32 and may have logged more miles on a court than most frequent-flyer CEOs, but Kobe Bryant is still the best closer in all of basketball.
Bryant will win a sixth championship this year because he can envision it and because he will will his team to the finish the line, one way or the other. This is a Lakers team that, when firing on all cylinders, is nearly impossible to beat. And Bryant is poised and ready to lead them to the promised land.
There are, of course, skeptics who say he's too old, that he has slowed down and that he is too banged up to effectively go the distance.
Bryant still averaged over 25 points per game in this, his 14th campaign in the NBA. He also averaged five assists and five rebounds to go along with his 15 technical fouls.
Just add up all the pieces: The Lakers are like your mom's best layer cake. There's all that talent in Odom, Gasol, Bynum and Artest, a bench that could get very hot in a hurry led by Shannon Brown and Matt Barnes and the game's top coach in Phil Jackson.
And, on top of that cake is No. 24. He's the proverbial icing and will find a way collectively to have his cake and eat it too.