Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The State of the Los Angeles Lakers

As many people's resident Lakers-head, I have been asked a dozens of times over the past few days "Dude, what is up with the Lake show??? How could they lay an egg to the Heat like that on Jesus' birthday?".

My general explanation here is that the Lakers are the champs - the two-time defending champs. Until someone beats them, that is not going to change. Going into the Heat game, that was their mentality, and that led to the final box score. Let's look at the stakes going into that game:

If the Lakers win, they did so because they are the champs, and were supposed to win. If they lost...they'd still be the champs, and this would be in the grand scheme, a meaningless loss in December (remember last Christmas when they got blown out by the Cavs at home? Did that have any effect on them winning game 7 in the Finals?).

If the Heat win, they prove to themselves, and the entire league, that they are one of the elite teams and not some stitched together band of superstars having a "chemistry" year; they are in this to win a title. If they lose, they not only prove to themselves, but also to the league and all the haters (including me) that they are just that - a bunch of chumps who just aren't there this year.

Put all that together, and bam! 20 point loss on Christmas day.

As for the general state of the Lakers, it is painfully obvious to me; they just. don't. care. And in many ways, why should they? They are coming off of a 65 and 57 win seasons. They just won two titles, one at the expense of the hated green devils from New England. Kobe has cemented his legacy. Pau is creating his. Lamar just won a gold as a start in the World's games and married a Kardashian. Phil is one of, if not the greatest coach in professional sports history. Yes, they are playing for a title that would tie the franchise with Boston for the most ever, but I think that's something that Dr. Buss, Magic, Kareem, the Logo and the fans are more concerned with than say, Shannon Brown, Matt Barnes and Pau Gasol are.

But these men are all competitors - they do this for a living. They play to win, but more importantly to win it all. There are enough vets on the team that have yet to satiate those hunger pangs of taking that big gold trophy and lifting it above their heads to the adulation of thousands of screaming Lakers fans. So all these things taken into consideration - what is their deal?

I think this team has a unique understanding (unique to two teams only, seemingly) that they have played over 300 games, including the preseason and playoffs, in the past 3 years. That's four seasons packed into 3 years. I think they have the understanding that in their 9 man rotation, 7 guys are above 30, including all 5 current starters. I think they have the understanding that because of their limitations of age and mileage the past 3 years, they cannot go full throttle every night, despite cries from their fanbase and national panel. I think they understand that all those concerns will be quelled when Pau is hustling for every loose ball in April, Derek has the legs under him to make big shots in May and Kobe is blowing past defenders in June, because they played that much less hard in December. The Celtics did this last year and came within 6 minutes of winning it all - on the road, no less. They understood that you can't go hard for 48 minutes every single night because those aren't the games that matter.

The bottom line is that the Lakers don't really care right now - and you know how I know this? Because that's how I feel. I know that if they lose the Spurs on the road by 16 or the Heat at home by 25, that we are the champs, and that this is December, not March or April or May or June. As a diehard Lakers fan, I don't feel like this is a big deal, so I know they are not pushing the panic button over there at Staples Center.

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