Hearing recent concerns over the seemingly “Jekyll and Hyde-ish” (as Kobe put it) play of the defending champs, I still think that to fret over a 54-21 record is a fortunate luxury that we all share as the people of the Laker Nation.
Although, it actually does dampen me that I am writing this in between losses to the Hawks tonight and to the Hornets the other night, who aren’t even going to the playoffs.
Yes, it is somewhat of a concern, namely because of three reasons…
1. As cliché as it sounds, A LOT is expected of a team looking to win a second (and potentially a third, and maybe even a fourth) straight Larry O’Brien trophy. Their collective talent just can’t help but suggest that.
And, when I say this, I am including Phil Jackson.
*(WAIT! Easy now, potential critics — I didn‘t say they‘re a lock to run the tables, but you have to admit that on paper, the core of Kobe, Lamar, Pau, and Andrew is good enough to dominate within the next few years, pending they have a solid supporting cast with a sense of urgency. I don‘t think I can stress that last part enough.)
Believe me, I share the sentiment of how frustrating it is to see them struggling so close to April 17. But, moving on…
2. The fact that they won last year without (again, yes) the sense of urgency you would look for in a contender.
Remember the Houston series? I bet Ron-Ron does. That is actually something I hope he brings up, to light a fire under the team. He pretty much single-handedly took the Lakers to seven games (when I say single-handed, I am referring to the star quality. No Yao, no T-Mac, and yet they still went hard at the Lakers).
And the way they‘re playing at this point in the season, where ideally, things should be prim and proper, is really enough to scare us a bit. See, it‘s like a teenager going to prom — you have a lot to do while preparing for the big dance. And in the Lakers‘ case, it‘s 6.30 and we still haven‘t put the tux on yet.
The Laker Nation doesn‘t like seeing their boys give up 21 assists to a very good Hawks team, and at the same time turn it over 11 times. It makes things tougher when you let them get momentum like that, much more in a building where the Hawks enjoy a loud fan base.
(Did I mention that they also allowed three bench guys to score in double digits, with Zaza Pachulia getting a double-double?)
And here I thought they traded Mo Evans for a reason.
3. Because the West is still collectively a better conference than the East, therefore you can’t sleep on any of the seven teams behind you (I also think that I speak for a lot of people when I say it might be a bit risky to go against the team in the Thunder. I mean, sure, they’re a young team, they haven’t gotten to the Playoffs yet, blah, blah… But, I don’t think Kevin Durant knows that anyway, nor would he care).
And so, despite all of the bumps that we‘ve been getting so far, as the Nation behind the men in Purple and Gold, I also do think we have to cut them just a bit of a slack.
Hey, it’s been a pretty rough season if you think about it. Here are reasons being the following…
1. The Injury Bug –
As our boy Jaime Quintanilla puts it in Episode 75 of “the Voice of the Nation,” Drew and Luke had their respective “annual spring vacations” (Not to mention, Ron, Sasha, Kobe, and Pau also missed considerable time).
Theoretically, if the Lakers were playing at full strength, they should have reached 60 wins by now. But things happen in the course of an 82-game season, and the one inconceivable variable is the injury factor. I don’t think I have to stress to the Nation (respectfully, of course) that we have a pretty awesome team, and to have our sights at 60 with all the injuries throughout the year is a very scary fact for other teams.
2. The Artest Factor –
Yes, we can take either side and throw out all the opinions regarding the “transition period” of our new muscle in #37. Sure, one can easily argue that it takes time to integrate such a huge and talented piece to the Lakers’ Championship puzzle. And, yeah, as much as I hate to admit it, losing Trevor meant losing certain intangibles which really showed during the Finals.
But, c’mon, that’s taking the easy way out.
Sure, one can also use for rebuttal the fact that it has been 69 games for Ron already, so how long does the adjustment have to take?
Personally, I think Ron has done decent for his first season. He has had some problems, like the way he played in Orlando earlier this month (remember the wicked hairstyle?) after the lockdown job he did on Carmelo a week before (he had 17 points and 6 steals that night). Yeah, he struggled with LeBron on Christmas. But no one really paid attention to how he played against D-Wade and the uptempo Heat (where he picked up five steals).
My point, it’s easy for haters to point the finger at the new guy but they don’t say squat when he does well.
I’d like to see how he performs in the Playoffs, as the one guy who didn’t get a ring on opening night. Heck, I’d hate to be the guy he checks.
While we might take for granted that he is so gifted as a player on both ends, he is also in a role that he has not really played in his career. How quickly we forget that we had similar questions about Lamar when he was delegated as the 6th man — when is he going to adjust? Lamar had his problems in the regular season last year, too, and it wasn’t until the Denver series that he really figured out how to play his role.
3. A Shift In Philosophy –
Because of the acquisition of Artest, the philosophy in terms of play has very slightly altered – to defense.
Proof? The Lakers, who last year averaged a team total of 106.9 points per game now averages 102.5, a slight dip (although still remarkable) which is usually the case when the focus shifts from offensive efficiency to making stops on the other end. This is mirrored by the averages of points allowed – last season, Showtime 2.0 allowed opponents an average of 99.3, and this season, it is down to 96.9 ppg.
Coincidence? I think Artest. See, defense, as I once heard Kobe say, is a habit. It’s a mindset. And with Ron echoing Kobe’s dedication to defense, we see the results on paper.
Also, as of March 23, the Lakers (according to Mike Trudell’s preview against the Spurs) led the league in rebounding and was 8th steals per game while committing the 2nd fewest fouls per game. I imagine this hasn’t changed much.
And so, as we look towards the Playoffs, admittedly, I do cringe at losses, and will continue to do so, just like any other die-hard fan. But I think the Lakers have earned the right to coast through the regular season.
With that said, it will be in the Playoffs that our loving boos and jeers ought to be well placed, because as much as they have displayed horrid effort at times this season, any form of lackadaisical play and weak sense of urgency is simply unacceptable starting April 17.
For now, let’s let them win the West. I just don’t know if they do it with 60.