There are any number of things I could choose to write about here. The Lakers not showing up to another game in Houston. Phil Jackson’s curious coaching gaffes throughout the series. Derek Fisher’s disappearing act. Pau Gasol’s slow transformation into a marshmallow. That really tall guy wearing #17 and pretending to be Andrew Bynum.
The media has blamed Phil Jackson. They’ve pinned it on Kobe Bryant. They’ve pointed in the direction of the role players. Some fans have blamed the meager refereeing; others have cried conspiracy theory by the NBA; most have said the Lakers have no heart. The deplorable struggles of the Lakers have been dissected, re-examined and dissected again on radio broadcasts, TV shows, podcasts, newspapers and blogs from Los Angeles to Tatooine (Yes, that Star Wars reference just happened).
In the end, it’s nothing more than talk, and that’s exactly what the Lakers have been so far in these playoffs. While they like to say all the right things at the right time to the right people, what if they actually told the truth? Well, it might sound a little bit like this:
Reporter: Derek, explain what you’re trying to do to contain Aaron Brooks?
Derek: Look, my legs are dead. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not 26 years old anymore. I’m really only on the floor because of what I have done over the years, not because of what I’m contributing now. And, can someone please tell me who Aaron Brooks is? In six games, I’ve only heard his name announced, I haven’t actually seen him.
Reporter: Pau, how is it that you’re struggling to score against two guys half your size?
Pau: I’m from Europe, what did you expect? I shoot jumpers and hook shots; I don’t bang with anyone that actually pushes me back. You can’t ask me to suddenly change my game; this is how I’ve always been. When it comes down to it, I’m going to flop or shoot a fade-away before I intentionally absorb some contact. You knew this when I came here. If you don’t like it, I’m sure you can swing a deal to get Kwame Brown back.
Reporter: Kobe, how do you explain your low shooting percentages from the floor in this series?
Kobe: Have you seen my teammates shoot the ball? Derek hasn’t hit a shot since March. Pau & Drew kick the ball back out to me with less than five seconds on the shot clock at-least a dozen times per game. Sasha’s last good game was around the same time he got a haircut. If my guys would make a few open shots, I wouldn’t have thirteen defenders hanging on me when I drive. Give me a damn break.
Reporter: Phil, what have you done to help motivate your team to play hard?
Phil: I occasionally wear one of my nine championship rings. What else do you want from me? I’m not William Wallace.
Reporter: Drew, can you explain your struggles during the post-season? …
Reporter: … Hey, has anyone seen Andrew Bynum lately?
I’ve decided to call this the Rocky series. It’s the classic match-up between the “heavily favored, overly confident, sometimes unlikeable” Apollo Creed and the “way undersized, completely inexperienced, really likable” Rocky Balboa. The only real difference is that, unlike the current Lakers, Apollo was the reigning champion, so it made a little bit of sense for him to be as egotistical as he was. Hell, at least he went out and proved he was the best. Explain to me again why the Lakers have this unwavering sense of confidence that is totally unrelated to what they’ve done thus far in the playoffs?
Sunday isn’t just a big game, it’s a colossal game. The acquisition of Pau Gasol, the emergence of Kobe Bryant’s leadership, the brilliance of Phil Jackson’s coaching… Game 7 on Sunday at Staples Center will write a paragraph in history about all of those things. It will be the difference between struggle and failure; between a bump in the road on the path to success, or the very end of the road all together. It will provide us with an opportunity to learn our lesson at an affordable price, or to learn it at the cost of bankruptcy. Most importantly, it will mark the beginning of a clean slate, or an off season of questions and disappointment.
They say adversity exhibits to the world what lives on the inside of a person. For the Los Angeles Lakers, we have seen the flickering lights of greatness that simmers somewhere inside of them.
Will it show up on Sunday? I’d put my money on it.
And, if it doesn’t, then what we really saw wasn’t greatness at all.
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 for live, in-game coverage and analysis.