It took me a little bit of time to fully process the disappointment I felt after the Lakers Game 2 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. I will be the first to acknowledge when a team is better than one of my favorite teams, but up until this point, I just didn't think anyone was better than Los Angeles. Plain and simple. And as stubborn as I'm about to sound, I still don't think there is a team as talented as they are in this league when they bring their A game, execute and play hard.
Unfortunately, the time and place for that excuse has officially run out. How can I fully respect myself while trying to argue that the Lakers are losing because they aren't trying or because they don't care? After all, executing and playing hard are crucial elements to a winning basketball team. If you're going to be the best team, now is when you prove it and to this point, the Lakers have proven nothing. The last three Finals runs don't mean anything, they don't scare anyone and they aren't going to magically bring them their third straight title. At this point, I don't know if anything can help.
I'm still not giving up, though.
In Game 2, the Lakers statistically beat the Mavericks in many key categories, but unfortunately, it didn't translate to anything more than a second straight disappointing home defeat. Los Angeles out-rebounded the Mavericks (44-39), committed less turnovers (10-11), they put up just as many shots (83-81) and they got to the free throw line nearly as often (20-21).
Unfortunately, none of this mattered. The Lakers have struggled to take advantage of their biggest mismatch in ANY series, which is their height. No one else has the array of seven-footers that LA does, one who is strong, one who is finesse and one who can play the point. But yet, they barely get involved. Blame it on whoever you want, but as a team, they don't execute well enough to make these three players valuable.
I mentioned that the Lakers got to the line as often as Dallas, but once there, they didn't fall. They shot 11-20 from the free throw line, while Dallas shot 17-21, giving up six points at the line. I also mentioned that they put up as many shots as Dallas, but unfortunately, 20 of these shots were from beyond the arc, and the first 18 of those missed. That's right, the Lakers started out 0-18 from deep. If it were me and my team was losing at home to a team that we thought lacked the toughness and grit to stop us and we were shooting 0-10 or 0-13 from the three, I would probably bang it inside. Whether I drove to the hoop, or gave it to one of my big guys inside, I would get something set up to attack the hoop.
What did the Lakers do? They took seven more threes, eventually hitting two trivial shots towards the end, when the fate of the game was already determined.
If Los Angeles is to have a chance tonight, they must execute offensively. Move the ball around, drive, cut, pass, pump fake and attack the hoop. All these things are options. Don't settle for 25ft jump shots for crying out loud.
Unfortunately (or fortunately depending how you feel), Ron Artest has been suspended for Game 3 due to a mental lapse at the end of Game 2. If you've seen any of the Lakers games this season, especially towards the end of the season, at the end of games Ron loves to use up every last freaking foul he has. I don't know why he feels that he has to do this, but its something he's been doing. I think he was out of control when running at Barea and hit him in the face. I'm not denying it looked bad, nor that it was a hard foul. But I'm not entirely sold on the notion that Artest was looking to hurt him.
Either way, he won't be in action for LA. We haven't been told whether Barnes or Odom will start, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Barnes in the starting five, as Odom has stated numerous times he doesn't like starting. I wouldn't mind seeing it though, because it would make it all the more difficult for the Mavericks to go small on the Lakers.
Regardless of whether or not Odom starts, he needs to have a big game for LA to win. I know I sound like a broken record, but he needs to be active, needs to attack the rim and stop settling for jumpers. Hit the glass, get some put-backs and get some easy points.
Someone else who needs to perform is Pau Gasol. As I've said with Odom, I've said with him–he needs to be aggressive. There are rumors circulating that he and his girlfriend broke up recently and this has affected his play. While I know that matters of the heart can be difficult to put aside, if there were ever a time to try as hard as possible to not think about it and do something you love, it would be Game 3. Baby steps Pau, baby steps. We're all behind you.
Besides Gasol and Odom, the Lakers bench has been MIA. LA needs a good performance from two of the Killer B's squad in order to contend in Game 3, let alone the series.
I know that after Game 5 against the Hornets, many wrote Kobe's ankle problem off to media hype, but take a closer look at how he's played this series. Many face-up jumpshots, no rebounds, not attacking the hoop. If Kobe's ankle is more serious than people realize, the Lakers have much bigger problems to worry about than their three-peat hopes.
Finally, however, I leave you with this. This team and its fans need to realize that this series must be taken one game at a time. A comeback is not impossible and though the odds are stacked against them, this team has the talent to accomplish this. It's not going to be easy, but nothing worth having is.
This post is also featured at The L.A. Minute, my personal blog.
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