I talk an awful lot about overly emotional Lakers’ fans – primarily because I am a recovering one myself. If I were to create an F-Bomb Usage Chart that spanned the entirety of my life, it would look something like this:
Lakers Specific: 90%
Basketball Related: 7%
First Day of Wakeboarding: 1%
First Day of Snowboarding: 1%
That Time my Ex Tried to keep me from seeing my Dog: 1%
On Tuesday, I had a minor relapse, dropping a big F-You on Twitter in the direction of Lebron James’ and the Cavs. To those I offended, please accept my sincere apologies. While my anger may have been vented towards Lebron, it certainly had a lot more to do with the disappointing and deflating play of the Lakers.
Last season, a distinctly hungrier Lakers’ team met, and conquered, almost every single challenge the regular season placed in their path. Around this time, they were busy dominating a late-January road trip (6-0) that concluded with back-to-back victories over the Celtics (swept 2-0) and Cavs (swept 2-0). This year, well…
We all want this recent stretch to be an aberration in our championship picture… a bump in the road on the journey to another parade… a fixable lapse of desire for a team that wants #16 more than we do. But is it really that simple? The troubling symptoms are plainly visible for the Lakers.
Road Woes. The Champs are sitting at a very mediocre 10-8 on the road (12-5 at this time last season). If that doesn’t alarm you, maybe their 3-7 record in road games against playoff contenders will – including a season sweep at the hands of the Cavs and blowout losses vs. the Nuggets, Clippers, Blazers and Spurs. Still not concerned? 2 of those 3 road wins came back in November, giving us one quality road win (vs. Dallas) in the last two months.
Injuries. I said it from the very beginning (as did many of you); there are only two things that can prevent the Lakers from repeating as NBA champions this season: Injuries and Themselves.
Right now, both are happening. Check out the number of key injuries the Lakers have already been forced to deal with this year:
Kobe (Finger, Back)
Gasol (Hamstring – 2x)
Artest (Feet, Head)
That’s the best player on the planet (Kobe), our second (Pau) and fourth (Artest) best players and a valuable rotation guy (Luke). While I’m confident that Gasol and Walton will be just fine, I’m not so sure about Artest and Bryant.
Have you seen Ron jump lately? He has the springs of a middle-aged white guy playing pick-up ball at the Jewish Community Center. Without that hop in his step, his greatest asset (defense) actually becomes a liability. And Kobe? He is one of the toughest competitors in the history of sports, and that is the only reason he is on the court right now. I don’t think I could even brush my teeth wearing that splint he wears on his hand. Those two injuries beg the following all-important question:
Can the Lakers’ repeat if Ron and Kobe are playing at only 75%? The thought of being forced to answer that question terrifies me.
Defensive Rotations. Sure, our defensive numbers look good (second overall according to NBA.com’s way-too-complicated system). However, those numbers are a poor representation of the frequent blunders we’re seeing from the Lakers on the most important side of the floor. How many times a game does Odom get lost and fail to rotate to an open shooter? Gasol and Bynum get pushed under the basket and scored on? Fish and Ron get beat off the dribble? Even Kobe – an all-world defender – loses just about every time he gambles for a steal.
Most alarming is that these lapses frequently happen during the closing minutes of the game. We watched Lebron get multiple, uncontested looks down the stretch in Thursday’s loss in Cleveland and Hedo had absolutely no problem getting to the rim (not one of his strengths) on the last possession of Sunday’s loss in Toronto. The majority of us would rather see Kobe hoisting a contested fall-away at the buzzer to win or lose the game than we would the Lakers defense trying to get a stop to win or lose the game. That, right there, says it all.
There’s a reason we have all heard the phrase having the heart of a champion.
It’s because heart is always the key ingredient when it comes to achieving greatness. It is what inspires teammates and fans to overcome the longest odds, even in the face of adversity; It is what wants it more than everyone else, and doesn’t rest until it has been attained; It is what willed an exhausted Lakers team to the ’09 NBA title; and it is exactly what eludes this Lakers’ team right now.
If we don’t finish on top come June, at-least there will be no question about what was missing.
J-Ri’s Shameless Plug of the Week: Goes to my friend, TLN Forum Member and Lamar Odom lover Violet Kanian. Vee is in the running to land a gig with G-Star Raw to be the new YouTube reporter for New York’s Fashion Week. Exciting, right? Well, she needs your help. Please take just 30 seconds of your day to go vote for her! It’s easy and you’ll be helping another person get a step closer to their dream. Win/Win, right? Right.