The Los Angeles Lakers lost their second game to the Mavericks last night, going down 0-2 in their playoff series with the two losses. There's only one team, the 1994 Houston Rockets, that dropped the first two games of a series at home and then went on to win the championship.
In fact, only three teams have ever dropped the first two games at home and won the series. The other two, ironically, are the 1969 Lakers and the 2005 Mavericks.
The story line almost points in the opposite direction than where it should, though. All the chatter is about how the Mavericks lost the 2006 finals up 2-0 and how the Lakers are still the champions. The argument is that you can never count out the Black Mamba, Kobe Bryant. These arguments are completely unrealistic.
The Lakers have a huge mountain to climb and haven't exactly looked like they're in a mountain-climbing mood. Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant have both suggested that this might be a series they won't win. Pau Gasol isn't even looking like the best Gasol in the playoffs, nor does he even seem bothered by this. Ron Artest might be suspended for Game 3 for a stupid foul. Andrew Bynum is talking about trust issues.
When it comes to the clutch moments, the Lakers have been anything but. In the last quarter of the first two games the Lakers have been outscored by nine points in the first game and six in the second. This is not the team that guts up and closes things out. Neither is Dallas looking like the team that shrinks back and fails down the stretch.
It cannot be ignored that the Lakers, in a must-win game at home, couldn't win. There simply wasn't another level they could reach. This wasn't like Game 1 where they nearly won. They didn't just lose—they got beat.
Let me explain though what I mean by "couldn't win." I don't mean they couldn't have played better. Certainly they aren't going to shoot 2-of-20 every night from three, Bryant isn't going to miss layups and Gasol isn't going to be taking the follow-up out of bounds with him every night.
I'm not saying the Lakers aren't capable of reaching that level when I said they couldn't reach the next level; I'm saying that when they needed to reach the next level, they couldn't. That's not something these Lakers have lacked before.
Furthermore, when you look at the specific reasons the Lakers are getting beat, it's hard to see how they are going to "flip a switch" and change things.
The Dallas guards are exposing the defensive failings of the Lakers guards. Normally when the charge is made that Kobe can't do it all by himself, the reference is made to the offensive side of the ball. Now it's defensively that the Lakers are failing, particularly the guards.
J.J. Barea is auditioning for spokesman for Ginsu the way he's slicing and dicing the Lakers defense. While Barea is on the court the Lakers have had a defensive rating of 115.84 and a net rating of 23.61. Are Steve Blake and Derek Fisher suddenly going to find the speed to stop him?
While it's easy to merely dismiss the Mavericks' early advantage based on the comparative postseason histories of Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki, it's not so easy to dismiss the present. Kobe has gone to the well, and for a dunk it looked like he was back.
However, truth be told, Kobe is not having a great postseason. His PER is the lowest it's been in the postseason since 2003. So is his field goal percentage. His scoring is the lowest it's been since 2001. His rebounding is the lowest since 1998, as are his assists.
Defensively Dallas is playing like it hasn't in years past. Tyson Chandler has given the Mavs attitude. Shawn Marion has been effective. Dirk has been playing the best defense of his life. There's a lot of talk about "these are the same Mavericks," but honestly they aren't the same Mavericks. Literally, they aren't the same Mavericks.
Only two players, Dirk and Jason Terry, were on the team that lost to the Heat. Their coach is a different coach. Their style and personality is a different personality. This is a team that has developed and grown and is far more desperate. Chandler was the final piece of a puzzle that has been built over time.
Now granted, Bryant's minutes are down too, but his time-adjusted stats, like PER and WS/48, are down to their lowest levels since the Shaq era too. Aside from that, the fact remains that while it might make an argument for how well he plays when he plays, it doesn't help the Lakers to win when he's spending more time on the bench.
On top of all of this is the utter desperation that Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki are playing with right now. I say this running the risk of getting scoured by the Lakers Nation, but right now if you didn't know any better, you would think they were the champions.
People are afraid to count out the Lakers, but I'm not. I just see no way that they come back against Dallas because right now Dallas is 1) a more complete team and 2) a more desperate team. Right now the deepest killer instinct on the court honestly seems to be coming from Dirk. He's the one imposing his will on this series.
Dallas will win this series. The Lakers will not win their three-peat. Things could get worse though in coming years. I don't see them getting better next season, but there are other teams that are getting better.
Oklahoma City is younger and getting better. So is Memphis. So is Portland. The Lakers, meanwhile, are getting older and, by virtue of that fact, worse. Their hope for the future is clinging on the fragile knees of Andrew Bynum.
Hopes of many more years of Bryant playing at a high level are unrealistic. He's been showing signs of waning for years now. Realistically he may only have one or perhaps two more years of scoring 20 points per game. He's getting to an age and mileage where you typically see huge drop-offs in performance.
Even Michael Jordan was in decline at this point in his career and with considerably less miles on his knee. Kobe Bryant is going to be 33 next year, but his 33 is really 35 in terms of miles. His contract is enormous and could potentially eat half the Laker salary in its final year in 2014.
Monstrously over the cap, the Lakers are going to be limited in what they can do in signing free agents. The new collective bargaining agreement isn't likely to help their cause. They'll have at least a year or two more in the playoffs, but will be getting worse and unable to get any help from the draft while being unable to advance.
The Lakers aren't just going to lose a series; they are going to lose their dynasty. The most successful team in professional sports over the last 40 years is on the verge of beginning of a decline that the city just hasn't seen before.
It's not at all unfeasible that two years from now they won't just be also-rans in the NBA; they'll be also-rans in the city of Los Angeles as well. Behind their Rookie of the Year, Blake Griffin, the Clippers are on the rise.
Even Rome eventually fell; now it's the Lakers turn. People are saying it's not time to hit the panic button. Well, it is. This series will remove the stone that will cause the dynasty to crumble.