(Thanks to Jim for the title)
Just for a moment, I want you to imagine a movie starring Keanu Reeves.
… I know, you’re right and I’m sorry. I should have given more notice. Hang with me here.
Let’s say that Keanu plays a cocaine addict who suffers from aspergers syndrome. In between emotionally riveting outbursts, he develops a friendship with a shrewd and astute psychologist, played by Dolph Lungdren, and suddenly becomes inspired to recover the lost pieces of his life. I see several captivating performances from Pauly Shore, Larry the Cable Guy, Steven Seagal and of course, the whole thing could be interlaced with witty and dramatic narration provided by Sylvester Stallone.
Now, let’s say that movie stopped by Wienerschnitzel, got really sick and couldn’t find a bathroom anywhere. The disgusting result leaked all over the car seat would look and smell a whole lot like the Lakers mortifying performance in game 4 at the Toyota Center.
So, I admit, that was a little over the top. Forgive me for still being slightly baffled by what transpired in Houston yesterday afternoon. In retrospect, the Lakers couldn’t have possibly played worse. Kobe started warm, and then found himself caught in a blizzard. Aside from the meaningless fourth quarter, Pau Gasol resembled a really tall Twinkie with a purple jersey on. It appeared that Andrew Bynum was busy filling out a missing persons report on himself. And D-Fish, a usually reliable source of wisdom and toughness for this Lakers team, may have been more effective tweeting with fans from his hotel room.
How does this happen? Well, it’s really simple. The Lakers have the killer instinct of a Minnow.
When motivated and focused, this Lakers team is the undeniable favorite to win the NBA championship. We’ve seen flashes of it a few times during the regular season. Just ask Cleveland and Boston what that looked like in person. We’ve also seen a few flickers of it in the post-season. A bounce back game 4 in Utah. A gritty second half of game 2 against the Rockets. Forty minutes or so of game 3 in Houston. I have never in my life seen a team with so much empty space packed between the ceiling and the basement.
I have some bad news, and I have some good news.
The bad news? The Lakers are not a great team.
The good news? They don’t have to be.
In a playoffs marred with parity, injuries and refereeing blunders, the last good team still standing gets a ring. Let’s look at the six teams who still have a shot (Dallas and Atlanta are toast).
As great as Lebron is, he doesn’t have another exceptionally great player with him. Mo Williams is a borderline all-star who’s having the best season of his career. Big Z is an outside shooting big man who is just as likely to get hurt as he is to drop more than 20 points. Aside from those three, you have a roster plagued with aging role-players (Wally, Big Ben) and mediocre talent. Good? Yes; Great? Hardly.
No KG. A tired Paul Pierce. A streaky Ray Allen. Can you be considered a great team when your best player is Rajon Rondo? When Big Baby isn’t just getting court time, he’s taking game winning shots on the road?
You’ve got one underachieving superstar (Carmelo), one overachieving ex-superstar (Chauncey) and at-least three players (J.R. Smith, Birdman, K-Mart) who easily make the “They could be charged with murder and I wouldn’t be shocked” list.
J.J. Redick is starting for this team, not to mention they’re coached by a Van Gundy. Their second best player, Jameer Nelson, is wearing a suit on the bench. Dwight Howard, easily their best player, goes entire quarters without touching the ball in the paint? Has a team that lives by the 3 ever been considered a great team?
The Rockets are playing without their two best players in T-Mac (which may actually be a good thing) and Yao. They’ve essentially got this far on the back of Ron Artest’s jump shooting and a 5’3″ point guard who could barely get in a game when the season started. It’s a miracle they’ve even been competitive in this series.
Los Angeles Lakers.
All the pieces are there. They have a mega superstar (Kobe) and a Hall-of-Fame coach (Phil). They have an all-star big man (Pau), and a borderline all-star forward (Lamar). They have an up and coming center (Bynum), quality outside shooters (Fish, Sasha), capable role players (Ariza, Farmar, Brown, Walton) and relevant playoff and championship experience. Yet, for some reason, they lack the mental toughness and killer instinct that separates a good team from a great one.
As frustrating as it was to watch the Lakers no-show a road playoff game against a short-handed Rockets team, we have to remember what the Lakers are up against. They don’t have to face Jordan’s Bulls. Magic’s Lakers. Bird’s Celtics. They’re not playing the greatest Lakers teams in NBA History, what the media thinks or the lessons the past have taught us about teams that win NBA championships.
They don’t have to be great; they just have to be good.
Because when it comes to crowning the 2009 NBA Champions, good will end up being good enough.
Jason Riley is a columnist for the Lakers Nation. In addition to this column, he writes on an array of topics that you can check out by visiting J-Ri.com. You can email him by clicking here, look him up on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter.