Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks played one heck of a series.
Its hard to be a part of Lakers Nation and not be a bit disappointed with the way they played this postseason, though it would be naive to say you didn't see it coming.
The up-and-down level of play shown by the Lakers this season had to tip many off to the fact that it wouldn't be an easy ride to the Finals. I know I wanted to think it was, but I knew that the Lakers were going to have to overcome their belief that they were better than everyone. That is the type of confidence that can both help and harm your ability to succeed, and this time it knocked the Lakers out in a four-game sweep.
Some excuses that many fans may run to in order to soften the blow:
Fourth attempt at making the Finals in a row
Game 4 against the Mavericks was the Lakers' 77th playoff game in four seasons. That's an entire season just of playoff games, and we know that the playoffs are when guys really kick it into another gear. Not to mention Los Angeles has its star players competing in the Olympics and FIBA Championships. Flat out, the Lakers are just tired.
They weren't trying
As a fan of the Lakers, this excuse just infuriates me, but it is a valid excuse for anyone who has watched the Lakers play all season long. There are stretches of time, sometimes even games, when the Lakers just go into coast mode. The playoffs are NOT a time when you do that.
I saw it in Game 1: After the Lakers had secured a 16-point lead thanks in part to a furious opening second-half run, they simply sat back and allowed the Mavericks to claw their way right back into the game and handed over the win. They fail to execute during these stretches; whether they rely on Kobe Bryant or long jump shots, these are times that are most frustrating for Laker fans.
This year's squad didn't gel
This is something that may leave some scratching their heads, as the core players (Kobe, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, Derek Fisher, Ron Artest) were there the year before.
However, when you look at guys like Steve Blake and Matt Barnes, they were supposed to be key players with this team. While Barnes showed moments of brilliance off the bench, ultimately I think his injuries this season really cost this team and didn't allow him to get fully integrated.
Also, Theo Ratliff was supposed to be the backup to Bynum, and he was hurt nearly the entire season, forcing Gasol to play the center position for large periods of time.
Excuses aside—as they are just that, excuses—the Lakers just didn't execute properly throughout the course of this series, and the Mavericks played a hell of a series. Kobe said it right when he said, "You've got to put the credit in the right place, which is in the Mavs locker room." He's right—they passed the ball extremely well, they contained the paint relatively well (Game 3 aside), they shot the ball excellently and their bench was amazing.
Coming into the series, when Charles Barkley claimed Dirk Nowitzki was the best player in the series, I scoffed and furiously tweeted how displeased I was with Barkley's opinion. He showed me. Throughout the series, Dirk played like the better player, and he closed out Games 1, 2 and 3 with both his shooting and his decision-making. I'm not jumping on the "Kobe's legacy is tarnished" bandwagon, but Dirk played great and outplayed him this series.
I also said Dallas' bench wasn't much outside of Jason Terry, who I argue is more of a starter than a bench guy. J.J. Barea did exactly what I feared he would, and Peja Stojakovic played like he never got over 2002. He buried the Lakers in Game 3 and shot extremely well in Game 4 to close the Lakers out.
Offensively, the lack of a quick, agile point guard doesn't bother the Lakers, as the triangle calls for an initiator rather than a playmaker. On defense though, players like Chris Paul, Steve Nash and even Barea wreak havoc.
Going forward, the Lakers have a lot to think about. How seriously was Kobe's ankle injured? I know after his Game 3 explosion on the Hornets many wrote the injury off as just media hype, but when you take a closer look at how he played in the Dallas series, he rarely attacked the hoop, making only one layup in four games.
Whether that can be attributed to Dallas' zone defense and length inside is another question, but to not attack at all and draw considerably fewer fouls than normal is quite the eyebrow raiser.
The Lakers front office and their fans need to stick by Pau Gasol; don't be so shortsighted and quick to judge. I am the first to admit that I was and am deeply disappointed with his level of play through the 10 games of this postseason, but I also remember the last two titles we won—two titles that he was an integral part of.
I'm confident that Gasol will use this offseason to get some much-needed rest, and he will come back next year to prove all the doubters wrong. I will be right behind him, cheering him on the whole way.
One of the most disappointing things with the Lakers' Game 4 blowout loss wasn't even the blowout itself, though that was embarrassing in its own right. It was Andrew Bynum's foul on J.J. Barea. It's own thing to fall so short of your goals, but to act shamelessly while losing is a whole different story.
The game went from bad to ugly with that foul and made Odom's foul look worse than it was. Odom apologized right after the game, and I think his was more a foul of embarrassment and frustration. He and Dirk had been getting into it, and losing so badly can make you do things on impulse. He made the movement to push Dirk hard and nearly hit him in the jaw, and luckily he didn't. I was much more tolerant of Odom's than Bynum's.
Lastly, I want to remind all the Lakers fans of the past two titles. Yes, the Lakers disappointed us all with their performance this year, but think of how greedy we can get when it comes to excellence. There are teams like the Grizzlies that had never even won a playoff game until this postseason. Think about that. The Lakers have 17 titles. Titles. The Grizzlies have won only six playoff games to this point.
As Lakers fans, we have come to expect greatness, and many times we are not disappointed, but remember everything this team has given you in the past and respect the players that gave it to you.
This article, in addition to many others, is featured on my personal website The L.A. Minute.
If you have any comments, questions or concerns, please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, please follow me on Twitter (@rcbinyon)—I interact with all my fans!