Los Angeles Lakers Must End Their Road Trip the Way it Was Started

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IMarch 26, 2010

SAN ANTONIO - MARCH 24:  Guard Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers smiles during a win against the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center on March 24, 2010 in San Antonio, Texas.  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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

If the Los Angeles Lakers are searching for a blueprint for postseason success, a good starting point would be the defensive performance against San Antonio on Wednesday night.

Phil Jackson should bookmark the fourth quarter of that game, and when his team fails to display the same type of aggressiveness and tenacity, he can return to that scene as a point of reference.

The Lakers defeated the Spurs, 92-83, and held Tim Duncan to six points on 2-for-11 shooting, while San Antonio only managed to shoot 37 percent from the field for the entire game.

Manu Ginobili scored 24 points, but in the fourth quarter, he was blanketed by Ron Artest, who had five steals for the Lakers and played the type of suffocating defense which has become his signature.

The most impressive part about the Lakers' performance is the fact they trailed for the majority of the contest, but at the end of the third quarter there was a sense of foreboding in the Spurs' mood.

It was almost like San Antonio had given the Lakers their best shot, only to glance over to the Los Angeles bench and have their stares confronted with confidence and steely resolve.

The Lakers felt like they had the Spurs right where they wanted them, and when play resumed in the fourth quarter, Los Angeles proved it by intensifying their defense to a championship level.

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It was probably their best quarter of defense since a blistering home effort against the Utah Jazz earlier in the season and may stand as their best defensive performance on the road all year.

But this is what championship teams do, and with other teams in the West wilting from the pressure of the playoff chase, Los Angeles has an opportunity to create even more distance at the top of the conference.

The Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks have begun to show cracks in their armor at the worst possible time, and any thoughts of catching the Lakers in the standings have all but evaporated.

Neither team looks as dangerous as previously thought, and a Laker lead which had dwindled below three games is now back to a healthy six-game margin over the Mavericks and six-and-a-half games over the Nuggets.

In some ways, the failure of Dallas and Denver to gain ground on the Lakers is not surprising, because after all, this is a time of year that Los Angeles is familiar with and finding motivation should cease to be an issue.

The Lakers have been to the mountain top of the NBA, and more than any team in the league, they understand the dedication, commitment, and will it takes to reach that place again.

Every other team in the NBA is trying to find the exact right mixture of ingredients to capture the Larry O'Brien trophy, while the Lakers are able to draw on their own experience of 2009.

One of the main components of the Lakers' title run of 2009 was stiff defense, which centered on protecting the rim and tenaciously guarding the opponent until the 24-second shot clock expired.

The type of defense which led to Artest stripping Ginobili of the ball on consecutive possessions, or Pau Gasol blocking Duncan's shot the next two possessions, or the Laker guards finally plugging the perimeter holes of their defense.

Los Angeles didn't simply survive this contest against the Spurs, they imposed their will and refused to let San Antonio be competitive. In doing so, they erased any hopes of a Spurs' comeback.

Sure Kobe Bryant hit two, big three-point shots in the fourth quarter which represented proverbial daggers, but Bryant recognizes one of his main purposes is to advance a fairly close contest to an easy Laker win.

And he does that better than any other player in the NBA. If this is the final version of the Lakers, in a year which has been marked by contrasting team performances, then it is the best thus far.

Some will question if this is just another uneven performance from a Laker team which has had its fair share, but I beg to differ because I have had the privilege of witnessing this before.

I'm not sure Los Angeles will win the final four games of their road trip, but if they can replicate their performance against the Spurs, they have a pretty decent shot.

While everyone else is trying to perfect their postseason rhythm, the Lakers have quietly won seven games in a row and are bearing a striking resemblance to the same team which captured the NBA crown in 2009.