There are two very accessible reasons the garden variety fan can cite to excuse the notable losses the Lakers have suffered thus far this season.
One is that the Lakers have been the NBA's media darling since the post-Bulls dynasty due to their overwhelming championship success, the rise and establishment of Kobe Bryant as the best and/or most complete player in the NBA, the Kobe/Shaq feud and the general glitz and glamour of Hollywood that is recurrently on display to the viewing audience.
Anyone who cares to question this claim can refer to the NBA's Christmas day schedule over the past decade. Oh, and they also happen to be the two-time defending world champions in the league. Therefore, every marquee loss is magnified to an unprecedented degree, and a series of marquee losses is worthy of raising the nation's terror alert level to red.
The second reason, which has already been posited by several Lakers players in defense of the growing criticism the team has faced since the blowout loss on Christmas day to the Miami Heat, is that they currently have the third best record in the league.
Having brought the main arguments into place, let's address why the Lakers do in fact need to change things up.
First of all, any knowledgeable fan should recognize and appreciate the magnitude of disparity in talent between the top teams in the NBA and everyone else. Essentially, teams like the Lakers, Celtics and Heat can play at 60 percent of their potential and still manage a win against a significant portion of the league.
Therefore, to get the most accurate read of where a marquee team like the Lakers are in the season, particularly with the playoffs narrowly looming, the level of emphasis when they play another marquee team needs to be disproportionately high. With that in mind, let's now proceed to the evidence.
Exhibit A: The Lakers were embarrassed by the Heat on Christmas day. While the loss was noted by the media, it was quickly rationalized as an aberration more attributable to the holiday season than the actual state of where the team's competitiveness level truly was.
Exhibit B: The Lakers lost to the Celtics last week, fueling a lot of held back fire that the team was either in it's declining stages of seniority and/or exhibiting classic symptoms of post-championship lethargy. Either way, the loss could not be so easily ignored, even though routine murmurs of "it's just the regular season" were shared.
Exhibit C: Last night, and less than a week from their stinging loss to the Celtics, the Lakers let a tightly contested game against the San Antonio Spurs in their home building slip away, in a game that seemed symbolic of saving any remaining face the Lakers had left as the cream of the crop in the Western Conference.
Now, things have gotten to a point where at least minor changes certainly have earned merit.
To begin with, the Lakers consistent lack of collective focus seems to demand either a leadership re-establishment or a leadership intervention. Over the championship years, Kobe has established himself as the vocal leader (partly because his ridiculous work ethic makes him a silently resent-worthy leader by example) and Derek Fisher is the emotional leader.
Somewhere in between those two, Phil Jackson incorporates a yoga session or two as his main source of contribution. In any case, if the Lakers hope to right their ship, the team will need to reconvene and get everyone mentally and emotionally on the same page.
Secondly, the yoga master needs to search deep within himself and consider his motives when asking the following question: What the heck am I doing playing Ron Artest in the fourth quarter? Does anyone on the planet have an answer to this question? Is there even an answer to this question? Certainly, it is not a difficult question, is it?
Not as difficult, as, say, how the words "Ron Artest" and "anyone on this planet" were placed in the same paragraph? Oh, by the way, the voice of reason just called. He wanted to suggest to the NBA's most winning coach of all time to maybe not put a player in during the fourth quarter when he is suffering one of the most historic slumps of any contemporary player in professional sports.
It also might not be so encouraging to the Lakers faithful that the team's most widely-recognized fan played him in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Just saying.
Last, but not least, either start Andrew Bynum in the fourth quarter or trade him. It has become quite obvious that the dual task of defending the opposing team's best big man and collecting pivotal rebounds is too overwhelming for the kind-natured Pau Gasol. Essentially, it's not in his DNA to be aggressive more so than simply channeling his aggression. And yes, there is a difference.
Therefore, the Lakers need to either give him some help down low by starting Bynum, or trading Bynum to get some new blood on his progressively decrepit team. And, at this point, Andrew Bynum is the only legitimate asset the Lakers have at their disposal, whose production and intangible value is of proximate range to his trade value.
As things currently stand, the Celtics look to be the heavy favorites to win the championship this season. And if the Lakers are naive enough to buy their forest from the trees alibi and simply stay the course, then, rest assured, the Celtics will be the least of their worries. Because, as of last night, there is now reason to doubt that the Lakers will even get far enough in the playoffs to meet them.