During the regular season, a friend of mine asked why we all bothered to put so much time into following each Lakers basketball game—it's a long season. His theory was, just turn on the last two minutes of every match. You’ll see the outcome.
And while that’s true, that doesn’t really tell you the whole story. Anybody can flip to the last page of a book to see the ending. But when you do that, you miss the journey.
The Lakers inexplicable lack of focus in Game 1 becomes easier to understand when you remember the losing spell before the All-Star break.
Kobe’s frustration with Pau is magnified by your knowing that Kobe has been frustrated with Pau for a couple of months (see the comments from the previous article: Pau, I need more Black Swan than White Swan.)
It really takes on context when you can remember back to the summer of ’07, when Kobe publicly lost it over the Lakers management’s inability to get him some quality help. Go back and look at those rosters yourself. You’ll see.
I don’t ever think it was personal, but more like Kobe trying to communicate, “If you really mean it when you say you are committed to winning, Lakers, then prove it. I’m in the prime of my career, but I cannot play all five positions at once. We need to upgrade.”, with the veiled (and sometimes not so veiled) threat that he’d consider leaving.
Probably not the best execution of the “Upgrade or Else” strategy, but the message got through. Well, the players are there now. The proof of the quality upgrade is appearances in the last three finals and winning the last two.
I’m not sure I like the journey of these playoffs so far. Here’s a recap of what is wrong right now. I’ve gone into each in depth in previous posts if you want more. (check the archives)
-Lakers: Inablility to match the Hornets intensity and ferocity
-Lakers: Not enough offense from Pau and the bench
-Lakers: Not enough defense on Chris Paul and Trevor Ariza
-Lakers: Not enough chippiness, toughness and attitude
-Lakers: Not enough points (duh)
But I think the Lakers collectively fail to grasp the bigger picture of what is going on. This is an exact repeat of the lesson they apparently failed to learn from Oklahoma City last year.
OKC surprised the complacent Lakers last year in the playoffs. But the Lakers should never have been surprised then, and they have no excuse now. The Lakers eventually prevailed, but it was nailbiting.
Lakers, the entire West has you in their sites. Heavy lies the crown. These young teams are hungry. You don’t think that most of the media dismissively talking of sweeps and coronating the Lakers hasn’t been fuel for their competitive fire? Of course it has. Monty Williams is no dummy.
The West is sick of having to go through the Lakers to get anywhere. It’s kind of like the Patriots in the AFC East. The Jets are sick of it. The Jets are going to bring it every time. Just so you know, the Jets record against the Pats is 3-2 since Rex Ryan and Sanchito rode into town. True, no Super Bowls. But none for the Pats either.
The Lakers are like the male lion in one of those nature shows about animals. Before the playoffs and for all of the last two years basically, they were the head of the pride. Kings of all they surveyed. Beautiful lionesses and young cubs all around. Relaxing in the sun and enjoying the good life.
Except for one thing. The young cubs grow up. They want to take on the head of the pack. The lion king swats them into place for a while. But eventually, one or more of those young cubs is going to make a serious challenge.
This is such an age old story; I shouldn’t even have to point it out to you, Lakers. Especially, because all of you have been that young cub at one point. You are going to have to defend your title with every ounce of veteran guile, strength and heart you have.
Heart. That’s what is missing, Lakers. The Hornets have it. Chris Paul is putting on a clinic. Trevor Ariza as his wingman is terrifying. Thing is, especially about Trevor, the Lakers should have known this too. Kobe did.
In one of his quick interviews prior to the playoffs starting, Kobe was being peppered with questions about Chris Paul. Kobe reminded the media not to overlook Trevor Ariza. Ariza is a hometown boy, went to high school in LA and then played for UCLA and eventually went on to the Lakers.
I was sad when the two parties couldn’t work out a way for him to stay a Laker. So this is an “I’ll show you” series for Trevor. It’s almost like Westbrook/Durant 2.0.
By the way, guess who often used to guard Kobe in practice when he was with the team? Trevor Ariza. He knows Kobe’s tricks.
The young cubs want to bust up the status quo. They absolutely want to take you down. That’s where you’re headed, Lakers, unless you get very serious immediately. Everyone has been talking about if the Lakers can three-peat. At this point, it’s an open question if they can even get out of the first round. Especially if Mamba is seriously hurt.
What do the Lakers have to do in Game 5? Simple. Win. Do not listen to the media who insist that the Hornets can’t possibly beat the Lakers. They can. They’ve done it twice.
They’ve shown their heart. Lakers, where’s yours?