The Lakers are the sports equivalent of Olivia Wilde. When I first saw her play Alex in Season 2 of the O.C., my whole definition of hot abruptly changed. She was the anti-Rosie O’Donnell. Girls that I once considered hot were now only cute, and cute girls became decent girls and ugly girls started looking more and more like guys. Even Jennifer Love Hewitt had to slide down a notch or two. Alex set the hot standard so high, even really attractive girls weren’t as impressive as they once were.
Take the 55-14 Los Angeles Lakers. When they knocked off the Celtics (twice), Cavs (twice) and Spurs (twice), our definition of winning abruptly changed. We were the anti-Los Angeles Clippers. Wins that were once quality were now only expected, and expected wins became un-impressive wins and losses started becoming complete and utter catastrophes. This years’ Lakers have set the winning standard so high, even a 3-1 week isn’t as notable as it once was.
I noticed it after Andre Iguodala buried the Lakers at the buzzer last Tuesday. In a temporary fit of emotion, I had a fleeting thought that Iguodala may have just ended the Lakers chance at home-court advantage in the NBA Finals, thus ending their championship hopes all-together. If I learned anything from my transitory insanity, it was two things: How Lindsay Lohan must feel immediately after she speaks and how pessimistic and emotional Lakers’ fans (myself included) can be sometimes.
Has the bench played poorly recently? Absolutely. Do we still have one of the better second units in the NBA? I think so. If we’re fortunate enough to see a healthy Andrew Bynum in the playoffs, we’ll likely see Lamar or Trevor returning to that second unit. When those guys play half as well as they did in Chicago, it gives us a marginal advantage over just about every team in the NBA. Sure, they’re inconsistent and erratic at times, and that’s exactly why they’re the second unit. They can and do play extremely well in stretches. I wouldn’t be shocked at all if their energy won a game or two for the Lakers in the playoffs.
Have we been giving away leads in almost every game lately? Sure. Will this problem solve itself after game 82? I think so. It’s no secret that the Lakers don’t do a great job of staying focused when they’re playing second-rate teams, especially when they have a lead. At 39 games over .500 and a virtual lock to grab the top seed in the west, it shouldn’t be too surprising that enthusiasm is seriously lacking. While it’s still inexcusable and cause for a slight hint of concern, it’s certainly not a reason to panic. If I were a betting man, I’d bet that the playoff version of the Lakers will make us forget we ever worried about their focus.
We could certainly find any number of things that make us unsure that this June will help numb the sting of last years’ game six in Boston. In all of my nagging pessimism at times, there’s only one concern that legitimately worries me, and that is the endurance of Kobe Bryant.
He’s been playing almost straight through since October of last season. There was last years’ regular season, the playoffs, the Finals, the Olympics, this years’ regular season, and coming soon, another deep playoff run. Kobe has looked fatigued lately and strikingly un-efficient. Just last week, he took 85 shots in the four games they played. 42 of them were jump-shots outside of the paint, 22 were from downtown and the remaining 21 came from inside the lane. In other words, 75% of Kobe’s shots were jumpers. If I know anything from my playing days, it’s that jumpers conserve energy when you’re tired.
Now, we can talk all we want about Pau Gasol’s toughness, or lack-there-of. Or Lamar Odom’s disappearance, or emergence, in big moments. Or Sasha’s malfunctioning, or efficient, machine. Or the bench sustaining leads, or giving them up, while our starters rest. But there’s only one deciding factor that will resolve the Lakers’ championship fate:
And just when you start to wonder if he’s got it anymore, if his best years are behind him, if his legs are dead; he always shows up to remind you that he’s still Kobe Bryant, the best player in the world.
And that is why the Los Angeles Lakers will win the NBA Championship.
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, or look him up on Facebook.