This Isn't the Team To Beat: Lakers Perish, Too Lackadaisical

Bleacher ReportSenior Analyst IMarch 8, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 02:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives around Brandon Rush #25 of the Indiana Pacers on March 2, 2010 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.   The Lakers won 122-99.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Never mind it being the best, most well-rounded basketball team in Hollywood, the most entertaining team in a community where movie stars crowded the streets of Hollywood for the Oscar awards Sunday evening. Deep down inside, witnessing Sandra Bullock win an award for leading actress was more galvanizing than watching the Los Angeles Lakers’ continuous struggles to win games.

It’s both fascinating and mind-blowing to watch arguably the most talented franchise in the NBA unravel and fade away from title conversions.  All that said, the defending champs recent disastrous stumbles raise concerns as to whether the Lakers can repeat and defend their title.

In a big town such as Los Angeles, the well-known basketball franchise is the town’s trademark, a way for L.A. sporting fans to interact and cheer on the purple and gold. Whether or not the Lakers have been deteriorating because of lethargy and careless lapses, the team still embodies humanity and essence within a diverse and hysterical environment.

Fans still believe in the Lakers, a championship-driven team with all the components to amass its 16th title and move closer within their archenemies the Boston Celtics for the most championships in NBA history.

Fans believe it’s a team to be reckoned with, simply for its experience and depth.

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Fans believe the Lakers remain invincible and impossible to beat, only because they possess the most dangerous and finest finisher in the game, Kobe Bryant. In this way, the Lakers are unique and have been one of the NBA's most amazing franchises.

Where amazing happened (not to mention thrilling heroics whenever Kobe’s buzzer-beaters fell) hasn’t been too amazing recently.  Its dreadful to think that the Lakers aren’t described as fierce villains any more. If anything, you’re staring at an enigmatic team that seems unsure of themselves and fails to find its rhythm. Go ahead, feel at ease, but no team is afraid of them or intimidated by them at the moment.

Without the fear of suffering a dispirited loss, teams are beginning to test the Lakers toughness and mentality, raising questions as to where L.A. stands as far as being able to muster another championship banner and parade on Figueroa Ave.

Here’s a memo to the Buss family: "this might be the end of the magical rebirth we saw a year ago." In reality, that is how fans feel about our team right now, even though the Lakers usually find their mojo during the postseason by playing with a sense of urgency and energy. But as of now, the Lakers are perplexing and seem doomed.

Oh no, the thoughts of TERROR!

As we know, mystique plays a huge role in Los Angeles. Mind you, this is the team that possessed Magic Johnson’s unbelievable performances and Kareem Abdul-Jabber's ideal skyhook during the Showtime era. They are the most compelling franchise in all sports, with all-time legends like Wilt Chamberlain imprinting a spot in Lakers’ history, as well as Jerry West, the long-time floor general who also assembled a potent nucleus when he traded for Kobe in the 1996 NBA draft.

So there’s no question it’s a franchise with a great deal of mystique.

But things are different of late. There is a sense of unfamiliarity with this team, losers of three consecutive games for the first time in more than two years.

Nonetheless, the Kobe Show isn’t cancelled from its regularly scheduled program.  Unfortunately, this funk has affected Bryant’s teammates who aren't getting involved in the now-stagnant offense. Blessed to have an exemplary guard in Kobe, all his lackadaisical teammates look to him to orchestrate a dramatic comeback, which happens often despite their underachievement.

None of this is good for a primary shooter, overloaded and fatigued by the end of the first half. It’s important that Kobe remains healthy and energized for the postseason, a moment when Kobe usually dominates and carries a heavy burden. Without him, the Lakers lose their killer attack and fall out of the playoffs much earlier than imagined. Truth is, minus Kobe’s ripple-effect the purple and gold is unable to survive a competitive bout in the playoffs.

In a shaky matinee Sunday, the Lakers stumbled again and were unable to find an escape from the dismay of the last three games. In what turned into a miserable ending, the Lakers faltered in a 96-94 loss to the Orlando Magic, in which they trailed by 10 points after three quarters, even though Bryant scored 18 of his game-high 34 points in the fourth quarter.

All of the sudden, the Lakers cannot close out a win, and they continue to defy the odds as to why they are called the best team in the Western Conference. Maybe it’s the moment to panic, bite nails and shut eyes. And maybe the L.A. faithful are scared to realize the possibility of suffering a heartbreaker in the postseason.

As a team, the Lakers had a team meeting to make a few tweaks and adjustments. No surprise there, because it’s a work in process after the Lakers finally improved at defending the pick-and-roll, a weakness that has created misery for years. The turnovers were also reduced a bit, finally protecting the ball anytime they had possession.

Most importantly, the defense is shaping into an unstoppable force, limiting the Magic to 34 points in the paint and creating misery for the physique Dwight Howard. Almost identical to when the team had minor flaws last season, before turning it around in the Western Conference Finals against Denver. Any ill-feelings or bad vibes in Lakerland could soon vanish, as the Lakers are accustomed to returning to form when necessary.    

Ever since Kobe returned from the injury, Pau Gasol is not shooting as effectively, Shannon Brown misses more shot attempts, Lamar Odom is inconsistent, Artest is having his worst offensive season of his career and well, Bynum is an overpaid bust. No disrespect to Kobe, but it was a fun, exciting team without his presence. Still, there’s no one more frustrated than Gasol, who has to be tired of his offensive deficiencies as he's averaging a mere 14 points in the last three games.

“Kobe is a great player, the best offensive player out there…but at the same time, we need to find some balance with our interior game, develop it a little more, moving the ball and changing sides.” Gasol said. “We need to get focused on that a little more, to find balance, to find some flow.”  

But now, it’s hard to figure out if the Lakers are potent to win back-to-back.

My guess is no.    

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