The 13th Pick: State of the Nation

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.

And, finally…

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.

  • wtf

    Who was it that put in this new commenting system? It always crashes my web browser. The older one was fine as is. Disqus sucks

    • GQ

      agree

    • lakermarc

      I agree and a real pain in the ass

    • Craig_J

      Who changed this whole website..almost nobody comments anymore!! C'mon Lakers Nation!!

  • hoop

    i remember when scoop jackson wrote to M. Joardan. I would like to call this letter Hoop to Kobe. first off i like to start with why the f@#* doesn't any one on the team besides kobe and lamar, yeah F#%# Pau soft ass bitch i hope he would play like a champ again like last year, play with a sense of urgency. They are just on the floor walking, wth? famar should not deserve to have his first name as jordan because that foo can't play with the team and defend everyother guards in the league, he has no defense. Derek, don't get me started, just hit the open three please ( he needs to practice alone alot more). Shannon brown, he used to be my second fav. player off the bench. Now he doesn't play his game anymore, missing layups come on shannon u r not farmar. Sasha is a piece of broken machine. Why can't he play D like he used to and hit threes like he used to. Maybe staying in LA too long and going out with Maria Sharapova makes him want to quit basketball. but maybe again he should by the way hes playing now. The rest of the team needs to learn how to make free throw and that includes u to kobe (GOAT). I would like to see some more dunk posters from mamba. Also maybe everyone on the team can actually run down the court and play lakers basketball, thanks. And on the defensive side, can people please stay on your man and actually contest shots. We as a team are being outrun by other teams. Thats embarrassing. Andrew Bynum, please stop getting injured and play with more fire power. Pau Gasol, i really liked him since he was traded to the lakers. But this year, he doesn't dunk anymore. Stop making people call you Soft, Pau. Come on u r better than that. Just rise up as high as you can, put your body out and dunk the ball as hard as you can. Dunk the ball as if the rim had talked about your mama and had an affair with your girl. Kobe (GOAT) please, can you please make sure that finger doesn't bother you anymore and dunk and score on people like you used to. I know its hard to ask because you are injured, but don't be afraid to draw charges or fouls on those punks that think they can guard you. As a life long lakers fan, i would like to say play more smoother, tougher, and just make sure the whole team is having fun because the game should be fun and no matter what winning is the most important thing. WE ARE THE LAKERS AND WINNING IS A MUST NOT AN OPTION.

  • lostinla

    the losing started as soon as pau started complaining about KOBE and kobe not stepping up to him to him and beating his euro-ass, everyone is just doing their own thing,getting that paycheck ,keeping their stats up….

  • 242PissedOffTLNFan

    This freakin sux!!!!!!!!!
    I'm logged into TLN, but I have to post comments as a guest? WHAT THE FUCK TLN??????

  • uwee

    other teams are no longer scared of us,our players look overconfident, they just need to play harder and show them who's the boss……

  • dclaker

    I'm BAAAAAAAAAAAAAACK! Yes,my fellow Lakernation-ites..It's me..me,me,me.I'm now living in New Jersey(Camden,had to get out of DC)and let me say that NJ represents the P&G as if it was LA,fo'real.I know we're down but I must honestly say that even “if” we get that 'Chip this year…change is coming….BigTime.Told y'all in '08 we shoulda got Mickel Pietrus.