Los Angeles Lakers: Proper Focus and a Healthy Andrew Bynum Will Seal a Repeat

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IApril 9, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 02:  Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers dunks in front of Troy Murphy #3 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

Anyone who truly follows NBA basketball knows the regular season is a poor indicator of how a team will perform in the postseason, and there are many variables that usually determine a team's playoff fate.

One of these variables is experience and another one is focus, and in the case of the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, the latter has been hard to grasp in the final stages of the regular season.

The Lakers will likely finish with the best record in the West, but they have a decided limp in their gait, as they have lost four of their last five games, and hardly resemble a team fighting to defend their title.

Some of their issues center around yet another injury to Andrew Bynum, but most of their concerns stem from a perceived lack of passion, and a failure to focus on the task at hand.

But is that really the case, or have the Lakers just become bored with a tedious, extremely long regular season, and are just biding their time until the postseason begins?

There are merits in that line of thought because Los Angeles has been accused of the same thing in the past, and they are notorious for adapting the same laid-back manner as their coach, Phil Jackson.

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In 2002, the Lakers' final championship year with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, the team went through a similar phase where it seemed unlikely they would win a third consecutive championship, but they were able to find motivation at the end of the season.

That team very much resembled this year's edition, especially when considering both seemed to lack a sense of urgency and were on a downswing heading into the postseason.

But the Lakers were able to prevail in 2002 because of their experience, a big shot by Robert Horry in the Western Conference Finals, and some suspect officiating in that same series.

The end justifies the means, however, and the 2002 Lakers proved they were capable of overcoming their regular season adversity, and shifting their focus for another championship run.

This edition of the Lakeshow has the potential to accomplish the same feat by drawing on the lessons of the 2002 team, and playing up to the level of their own championship year of 2009.

There has been plenty of conversation about the flaws of the Lakers, but the fact remains, if Los Angeles can match their focus with their talent, there are few teams who could beat them in the course of a seven-game series.

No other contending team can boast having the game's top two players at their respective positions like the Lakers do in Bryant and power forward Pau Gasol, nor does anyone else have a player like Lamar Odom.

Odom is simply the most versatile player the game has to offer, and when he is able to match his consistency with his talent, he gives the Lakers an option no other team can counter.

In Ron Artest, the Lakers have one of the league's best man defenders, and he gives them a distinct edge that was absent in the Lakers' march to the title last season.

His defense and ability to guard the opposition's best player helps alleviate pressure on Bryant, and enables him to concentrate more on the offensive end of the floor, while conserving energy for end-of-game situations.

The wild card is Bynum, because if he is healthy, his presence gives Los Angeles the benefit of having two talented seven-footers in the post, and only the Cleveland Cavaliers can make that same claim.

But where the Lakers can trump the similarly talented Cavaliers and any other contender is with the experience of knowing exactly what it takes to succeed on the game's grandest stage.

Each player, with the exception of Artest, has a vivid memory of the energy exerted and the sacrifices made in order to win a championship, and that will serve them when they find themselves in postseason pressure situations.

I'm not a fan of teams that ramp up their play in anticipation of the postseason, but the Lakers have the experience and the talent to achieve that, even when their prospects look dim.

The regular season is great in terms of establishing playoff seeding, but observers would be ill-advised to relate a team's performance in the first 82 games to how it will perform in the postseason.

If Bynum is able to return healthy, and the Lakers can find their focus from 2009, then another example may be in the making for those who would think the chances of the Lakers repeating have been diminished.

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