Out of Bounds with Jason Riley

(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).

Cleveland Cavaliers.
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.

Boston Celtics.
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?

Denver Nuggets.
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.

Orlando Magic.
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?

Houston Rockets.
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.

  • Peter

    Great article…
    love the denver nuggets murder thing…
    haha. everything is true…
    Lakers may be bipolar…
    but they are still the best wehn they want to be

  • Lakerfan_InAtl

    Great Read. I agree with you. None of the teams left playing are great. I’m not scared of the Cavs or any of the other teams we may face. I’m still pissed about last nights loss, but I’m not going to dwell on it. Anyway, again.. great read.

    “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.” Lmao Classic

  • http://yahoo.com theQuestion

    sold games.. thats all i can say..

    2 games are all the phil can give to you mr.stern…

    lakers in 6..

  • gugy

    The only team that can beat the Lakers is the Lakers itself.

    This is the truth. Like it or not when we are playing with heart, confidence and determination, nobody can beat us.

  • lainok

    absolutely true…if the lakers don’t win it all this year, it will be because of their own doing. if we meet the cavs, kobe and lebron pretty much cancel eachother out. After that it’s the rest of the teams. Lakers are obviously better, but if they lose, it will be because of themselves.

  • James

    That was a great, no not good, description of what we are seeing in the “NBA playoffs, and might I emphasize “OFF”. For there have been many times I just wanted to turn the games “OFF” as I have watched a potentially great team play far below it’s level of ability. They definately lack that metal toughness and killer instinct that seperates good from great. There is no way any of these teams could have faced Jordan’s Bulls, Magic’s Lakers or Bird’s Celtics.

    Champ, your article is what seperates good writers from great writers: In every bad experience, there’s a good illustation. You keep up the good work.

  • Ronnie

    Pathetic post. You think that after one no show and a few lousy wins that this team is lost? Look man, GREAT teams ALWAYS win the title because they are GREAT enough to win 4 seven game series against the best of the best. This is the NBA not the NCAA championship. You cant win a series with a hot shooting night from a no namer. The lakers ARE great. Look at the celtics last year, they dominated the regular season and went 7 games in almost every series yet they won because they are great. Look at 2000-2001 lakers, they dominated the regular season and went all the way with an 8 seed, and all the way with a 5 seed yet they won because they are great. You dont steam roll your way through the regular season, beat utah handily, then lose big and all the sudden your not great anymore? Wtf? Show me who the cavs have played? Show me who denver has played? They havent proved a dam thing. You will be eating your words if the lakers win the finals because you will realize that every great team rolls through the season and is tested in the playoffs. One loss does not make a great team into an average team.

  • gugy

    OK here is from daily dime. Let’s try to stay positive!

    Consider the last six champions (from
    John Holinger’s Daily Dime):

    • A year ago, Boston reached this point in the playoffs with a sterling 6-5 mark against two teams that had allowed more points than they’d scored in the regular season. Following a second straight double-digit loss to Cleveland, commentators openly questioned the ability of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to deliver in the clutch.

    • A year earlier, the Spurs lost Game 4 at home to Phoenix to even the series 2-2, and didn’t have home-court advantage. It took the controversial suspensions of Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw a day later to propel them toward the title.

    • In 2006, Miami had lost twice to Chicago in the opening round and dropped the opener of Round 2 to New Jersey before rallying toward the title. Like this season’s Lakers squad, the Heat were seen as horrific underachievers at the time.

    • The 2005 Spurs reached this point tied 2-2 with the Sonics in a rough, physical series in which the Sonics got under the Spurs’ skin. It’s easy to forget now, but a sizable contingent of media already had their golf clubs and Coppertone packed for a Phoenix-Miami Finals.

    • In 2004, the Pistons were in even worse shape. Not only were they tied 2-2 with the Nets after a second straight one-sided loss in the Swamp, they went on to lose Game 5 at home because they couldn’t contain Brian freaking Scalabrine. Still, they went on to win it.

    • In 2003, San Antonio also found itself knotted at 2-2 against three-time defending champion L.A. — in fact at this point in the postseason the Spurs’ record was just 6-4, and lot of critics were pointing to their alleged softness as a reason they wouldn’t prevail.

    When you look at it that way, the Lakers are right on track
    for a title.

  • Paul

    Yeah they act like great teams don’t lose..

  • lakerschamps-09

    i like da article great read… but cmon on ppl wtf do we have to win every freakin game??? no… yes that was sad n jus pathetic game 4 no doubt bout it… but damn if u gunna sit there n say we aint guna win da ship cuz we lost one game then idk…lol…. point is to win 16 games who gives a fuk how long it tAakes us or how many losses we have… if we champs then thats all that matters damn….

  • jCL smooth

    as much as it pains me to write, dont sleep on the cavs. idk why we lakers fans refuse to accept that they are not that bad. mo williams can get hot. he might have a field day on fish. varejao is a pest and has all hustle, sczerbiass can still shoot..i always hated that guy, bron is a beast, and no mention of delonte? i really think that guy is their x-factor. he plays solid d, can shoot the 3 and midrange..id be honestly scared to see them in the finals. i hope someone takes them to 7 games and fouls like crazy to tired bron out. if thats possible.

    and please stop calling sasha a bonafied shooter. he came into the L with an inconsistent j. he had one good year out of what 5 years in the L now? i mean those lakers-fan machine videos might be the only reason i love that guy on the team. pure comedy. that is honestly kinda sad.

    were a dope team but we gotta relax on God complex. to win we gotta play hard and earn that sh*t. FTW

  • jCL smooth

    and f*ucking joe smith. that guy will be to cle what pj brown was with boston. he got away with every dirty play in the finals last year. moving picks left and right. shoves under the basket for rebounds. hit a mid range shot. i hope mbenga comes in with the judo and takes care of it. that would be sweeeet.

  • http://thelakersnation.com/blog/?fbconnect_action=myhome&userid=9136 Jason Riley

    theQuestion – Sold games? Not entirely out of the question. :P

    gugy – agree 100%.

    Ronnie – Agree, one loss doesn’t make a great team an average one. Pretty sure I never said the Lakers are an average team, or that I thought they would lose. :)

    lakerschamps-09 – I definitely didn’t say, nor do i think, the Lakers won’t win the championship. If I had to place a bet, it’d 100% be on the Lakers to win it all.

    jCL smooth – Good points. Cleveland is solid, no doubt. I think we can take ‘em though. :)

  • Ronnie

    My bad I thought you meant good=average. Either way, the cavs still havent proved anything to me. Lebron is the real deal but thats all. Put the lakers in the east and they go 8-0 just like the cavs, thats for sure. As far as denver? They havent proved anything to me at all. They let Dirk throttle them instead of closing out game 4 the other night, and this is a banged up mavericks team. They havent proved anything. So far im most impressed by the celtics for somehow getting past the first round without garnett and going the distance with the magic (who clearly are the favorites to win) If anything, this should remind you of last years celtics (who won the title) Everyone is all about the cavs playing lights out right now but when its all said and done, the best team is the team that finds a way to win 4 games in june. Dont matter how pretty it looks, or how you get there.

  • rzebro

    Shanon Brown is (sadly) not a role player.
    He’s just someone who got lucky thanks to
    NBA market. Nevertheless, he have his ups
    and downs, so i’m looking forword for him
    to be Farmar-alike player, but sadly next
    season.