But even Jackson needs attention-getting devices. And until hitting this Denver-Phoenix speed bump, the Lakers were beyond thinking they needed extra work and motivation. They were treating the rest of the league like its personal piñata. Going into Denver, they’d lost just once in 14 games and twice in 19. They’d lost center Bynum, and that was supposed to finish their title hopes. But going into Denver, they were 11-1 without him. And among those wins were major victories at Boston and Cleveland.
Teams that experience runs like that tend to start to think they can’t be beaten, and sometimes nothing a coach tells them can shake that thought. When Jackson was in Chicago, that Michael Jordan fellow saw to it that the Bulls never thought they were unbeatable. In Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant has Jordanesque talent, but he doesn’t exert the same kind of control over the team’s psyche that Jordan did. The Lakers this year have tossed in back-to-back losses three times now — and each episode came after a lengthy streak of utter dominance. The first time it happened was on Dec. 19-20 at Miami and Orlando after a 14-2 run. The Lakers followed it with a 10-1 run that ended with losses on Jan. 14 and 16 to the Spurs and Magic. The current pair of losses follows a 17-2 run.