Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What's Wrong With the Lakers?

Of late, it seems that everyone has an opinion on the Lakers and how their season has been an up-and-down and inconsistent grind. They beat the Celtics in Boston, but lost by blowouts to the Magic and the Bobcats, managing to somehow make Paul Silias look like a genius NBA coach. Rarely does Phil Jackson get so incensed after games that he refuses to speak to reporters, but after this game, he simply said three sentences ("We're very upset about our performance tonight. We're embarrassed about what we did. That's it." for those wondering) and left, while Kobe ducked out from meeting the media, likely cause he would have gone on a murderous rampage otherwise.

As of today, the Lakers having a dismal record against winning teams, especially elite ones. They beat the Celtics, but have been blown out by them, as well as the Spurs and the Heat, on national television. While pundits panic, and people like Henry Abbott and John Hollinger use it as a means of proving their own flawed logic (i.e - Kobe's not very clutch), what I see from this scenario is simply complacency.

I know it seems like an easy cop-out, but let's look at it from a historical perspective and compare it to previous  champions lucky enough to be in this position. Going for a three peat is taxing stuff. It takes a toll on the team physically and mentally, and it creates a lackadaisical approach to playing basketball.

To put it in perspective, here is a relevant analogy. If your goal is to climb Mount Everest, and for 3 straight years you made it either very close to the top, or the top itself, by the time you made your fourth trip, wouldn't you carry yourself with a "been here, done that" approach since you already know what it takes to get to the top? Its human nature. They maybe be "finely tuned athletic machines", but they still bleed and feel the same lack of motivation that plague you and I sometimes.

While that may seem like an oversimplification, it holds true for most champions. While teams like the 1998 Bulls had strong veteran leaders who were ultra competitive in Jordan and Pippen, these Lakers have only one player who literally wants to win every game, and that is Kobe. The other players, from Gasol, Bynum, to even D-Fish, have actually subtly acknowledged that they take certain teams less seriously, and that they don't hype themselves up for certain games as much as they should. Realize that these Lakers have perhaps the biggest bulls-eye on their backs in the league. Every team is gunning to beat them and circling their match up on the calendar.

I remember watching a video where Bill Wennington (of the 96-98 Bulls) said that there were games the 3-peat Bulls teams would take games off, and they only won because Jordan single-handedly would bring them back and force his will over the opposition. Sadly, I don't think Kobe is capable of doing this all by himself at his age if the other Lakers don't show him support and be the "unbelievable" supporting cast they are made out to be. In his prime, I've seen Kobe single-handedly win games, but with his athleticism slowing down, and his reliance on wits and his (erratic) jumper, Kobe is less and less likely to dominate games unless its leaving his mark as a closer to finish off a team. That approach works a lot less when your team is trailing by 15 points in the second quarter.

The point is, the Lakers as a unit are not motivated, and it shows in losses to teams like the Bucks and Bobcats. However, as Rudy T. once said, you can't underestimate the heart of a champion. So I'll go out on a limb and declare that by the time April comes around, those same "What happened to the Lakers?" questions will be rephrased to "Why did we doubt the Lakers in the first place?".

Don't say I didn't warn ya.

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