The Lakers have been saying all the right things, talking about how the memory of their early exit in the Western Conference at the hands of the Suns during 2006 and 2007 playoffs still stings.
Of course, it was those early playoff exits that ushered in the Era of Bad Feelings, a time before Pau Gasol established himself as the shaggy but dominant inside complement to Kobe Bryant; when Kobe was pouting about the failure of management to surround him with players better than Smush Parker, instead of pouting for a photo spread; when the biggest offseason concern was whether the Buss family was going to have to blow up the team, instead of whether they would have to kick its favorite extended family member into a lower tax bracket .
That's the point. It was so long ago, it might as well be ancient history. You know, around the same time when Hubie Brown was coaching the Constantinople Spice to their first championship.
Amare Stoudemire also did his part to re-stoke the rivalry that never was, calling out Lamar Odom as "lucky" after Game 1. Of course, it helps to back up that kind of trash talk in Game 2.
Even the municipal governments are getting into the act, with a Phoenix utilities commissioner threatening to cut off the power the city provides to Los Angeles over L.A.'s boycott of Arizona's immigration bill. Our mayor, like our pro basketball team, can only scoff (even if he disagrees with our Coach ).
The fact of the matter is, this isn't a rivalry.
Maybe if Suns had taken it to the Lakers at Staples and wrested homecourt advantage away.
Instead, they're the nicest guys imaginable, singing "Kumbaya" around the campfire, and watching "Iron Man 2" together.
Sure, the Lakers might leave the game in 12 different taxis—or in Kobe's case, one helicopter and 11 different taxis—but they know how to unite as one where it counts: on the court.
Maybe even if the Suns came from a city of urbane condescension toward L.A., like New York or San Francisco, or working-class contempt of our city, like Boston.
To most Angelenos, though, Phoenix is the place where people who were driving west to L.A. ran out of gas. It's the San Bernardino Valley with slightly fewer meth trailers and slightly more cacti.
If there's a rivalry, it's all from the Suns' side, but frankly, they just seem happy to be here and appear eager to receive some lovely parting gifts.
While the Lakers may say they have revenge in mind against the Phoenix Suns, the players and fans reserve their real wrath for that that evil leprechaun laying waste to the pretenders to the throne—some so presumptuous as to call themselves "King"—in the Eastern Conference.
The Boston Celtics now enjoy a 3-0 lead over the Orlando Magic, and unless they've been swapping closeout tips with the local hockey team, it looks they are a lock to get back to the Finals. Even the "Beat L.A." chants have started up at The Garden, or The Big TD, or whatever they call that place now.
Most Laker fans will tell you that it's precisely those Celtics who they ultimately relish and fear playing in the NBA Finals. In a way, these playoffs have taken the form the Lakers have needed them to in order to repeat. As ever, the Lakers' greatest opponent is complacency.
The way things are shaping up, it looks like that won't be a problem.
That's why Stoudemire, providing all the bulletin board material he could, short of going into the Lakers' locker room and tacking it up on Odom's forehead, was the biggest mistake he could have made. It gave the Lakers motivation in this series in the place of that complacency.
That's why the Boston Celtics, though on paper the toughest opponent for the Lakers because, like the Lakers, they have been there before, are still an ideal opponent. The Lakers will be motivated in a way they wouldn't have been against those mother-lovin' Cleveland Cavaliers or even the Magic, who lost to the Lakers in last year's Finals.
Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals tomorrow happens to conflict with the highly-anticipated series finale of ABC's water-cooler time-travel drama LOST. If the Lakers are so lucky as to advance, they, like the passengers of Oceanic 815, can create a secondary timeline where the past mistakes of the first are corrected.
A timeline where NBA history is re-written and the Lakers are triumphant over the Celtics, rather than vanquished by them, as they were in 2008. That would have been the tenth championship for the Lakers in the city of Los Angeles (or "LA X"?).
First, though, they can't look past the Suns and actually have to go back to the Finals. THEY HAVE TO GO BACK!