Another year, another Christmas Day massacre in Los Angeles for the Lakers, to the tune of a 96-80 defeat.
Kobe Bryant looked slow. Pau Gasol looked weak. Ron Artest looked, well, like Ron Artest.
Meanwhile, LeBron James, with a triple-double, looked unstoppable. Dwyane Wade was a human pair of scissors, splitting double teams left and right for spectacular finishes and pinpoint passes. Chris Bosh looked, well, like Chris Bosh.
The Miami Heat found the "easy" button at Staples Center, because made it look like just that against a Lakers squad whose fans were scrambling for the panic button.
Phil Jackson was Zen, sitting stoically on the sideline as he always does, giving curt and vague answers to reporters.
Erik Spoelstra was intense, telling his team to keep the pedal to the metal.
Oh, and another storm is due in southern California, so the sky just might be falling.
A Christmas Day Collapse?
So the Heat will head home with some swagger to complement their fantastic talent, having put on a defensive clinic against the two-time defending champs, while the Lakers drive home for supper, with a second consecutive double-digit loss at home being anything but comfort food for a team that looks far from title-worthy at this point.
The loss to the Milwaukee Bucks was bad. This was something else.
LeBron and his Big Three buddies will get all the credit in the world for shutting down the NBA's fifth-most prolific offense, as they should.
Kobe and the softies will get a firm finger-wagging from Bill Plaschke and the rest of the LA sports media.
A fat lump of coal in Christmas Day, to be sure.
Lakers Struggle When Santa Comes To Town
But this isn't exactly the first time Lakers fans have seen this. This isn't the first time that LeBron has hushed the Staples Center crowd with a spectacular yuletide yield.
It hasn't even been that long.
Flip the calendar back to last Christmas Day, when the Lakers hosted the King and his jesters, including Shaquille O'Neal, for a courtly contest that totally tilted Cleveland's way, with the Cavaliers coming away with a 102-87 win.
Remember all the talk, about the Lakers looking more like chumps than champs? About the Cavs playing like the best team in the league on both sides of the floor? About LeBron wresting away Kobe's crown of best in the game?
There some disappointingly stuffed stockings a year ago, too.
And you know what happened? The Cavaliers were regular season champions, with a 61-21 record.
The Lakers? They ended the season with the Larry O'Brien trophy in hand, parading down Figueroa St. in Los Angeles.
Is It Really Any Different This Time Around?
Granted, these aren't exactly the same Lakers, and this Heat team is likely to be far better than that Cavs team.
These Lakers have lacked passion thus far, they can't seem to defend the pick-and-roll, and they just haven't played with any fire.
Not even the Heat–the HEAT–could ignite anything but defeat in the heart of the Lakers. Not even the paper champs, the team that's stolen all of LA's thunder since it came together in July, could get the Purple and Gold out of bed on Christmas Day.
On the broadcast, Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy talked about championships habits, pointing out that the Heat are building them while the Lakers clearly are not.
More Purple Than Gold, But Bruises Will Heal
But before we jam on that panic button, before we call for heads to roll, remember last year's Christmas Day game and how the season finished up.
Remember that Kobe and Pau and the rest of the Lakers have played only 30 games so far this season. Remember that Phil Jackson has 52 more regular season contests on that bench to sort out what's wrong with his team, or rather, what should be right.
Remember that the regular season doesn't mean much, so long as the Lakers get into the playoffs with a top four seed, which they will still do.
Remember that Kobe is still Kobe, that he'll rally the troops, that he'll whip his sluggish teammates into shape.
Diamonds don't just appear out of nowhere. Rings aren't just handed out for fun.
It takes a lump of coal, like the ones the Lakers found the locker room after their embarrassing defeat on national television.
It takes intense heat and pressure to ignite the smallest bits of that smoky rock into a shinier, more vibrant heart.
But most importantly, it takes time. More time than 30 regular season games allows for.
With a trip to San Antonio up next, the Lakers are in for a cabal for the rest of the season, one that will determine whether this bunch really deserves to be favorite, whether it deserves to call itself a team of destiny, much less dynasty.
But again, before everyone gets too far tangled in a tizzy–Lakers fans, Heat fans, basketball fans, whoever–remember:
Diamonds, like champions, aren't born; they're made, even from the ugliest of rocks, even (and especially) from the most pathetic of performances.