Win Would Be Bliss for Jackson
A two-man crew from Asia directed a camera at Phil Jackson on Friday night and asked in labored English if he would explain Zen to them. You know, for the people back home. In 30 seconds or less, presumably.
“Um, well,” Jackson began, “Zen is something that I think is unexplainable in words.”
The camera stared back. So did the two men, nodding blissfully. Zen-fully.
“It’s about being in the moment,” Jackson tried, “and allowing the process to happen.”
They nodded again and extinguished the camera light, and the Lakers’ season continued, with them to the middle of the Western Conference pack. There’ll be another town today, another organization perhaps sensing the end of three years of Laker dominance, another team wondering if it could be the one to replace them.
The Lakers today play the San Antonio Spurs, the last team other than the Lakers to win an NBA title, going on four years ago. Since then, the Lakers have won eight of the nine playoff games between them, more than a few dismissively.
The Spurs have a record of 48-20 and, with 14 games remaining, could still run down the Midwest Division-leading Dallas Mavericks. Three of their wins have come against the Lakers, the first two with Laker center Shaquille O’Neal on the injured list, the third by an easy eight points.
In the meantime, the Laker moments change so quickly they can barely keep up. They’ve played once as the home team in two weeks. They won’t again until Friday. By this morning -- tipoff is 10 a.m., body-clock time -- they will have played eight games in 13 days in seven cities, and some of them are showing the wear of it. The Laker defense takes entire quarters off, their jump shots often are short, and on Friday Jackson played every man on the active roster, unusual for him in a game that was not decided until the final minute or two.
And yet, as the schedule swelled and the games became more critical, Jackson had what for him was an odd request: He asked the Lakers to beat the Spurs. Today. At their new gym. On national television. Thirty-six hours, as it turned out, after the Spurs were beaten in overtime by the Minnesota Timberwolves. With David Robinson fresh off the injured list.
“We have to let them know again that we’re here, we’re ready and they’re going to face us,” Jackson said. “I don’t pull that out hardly ever.... I rarely put it in those kinds of terms. There’s not that kind of desperation in a season. This is a little bit of a thing right here, though. You don’t want to get swept by a team, especially a team we’ve had so many playoffs with the last couple years.”
The Lakers, of course, would like nothing better than to comply. They are seventh in the conference, a half-game behind Utah, and closer to falling out of the playoffs than reaching one of the top four spots.
The fact is, they’re tired.
“We definitely could be better. We could be better,” Rick Fox said. “This is new territory, being the fourth year of the championship run, the attempt at a championship again. You know, you definitely know why it hasn’t been done [since Boston won eight straight from 1959 to ’66]. It’s a chore. It’s a real chore. You start to feel it a little bit, but you mentally and physically can’t succumb to it or you have no shot.
“We’re trying to reserve and store up and in some way find the energy that’s going to be needed. Unlike a lot of people, we know what lies ahead. Right now, there is really no time to do that. You don’t see Phil giving us a whole lot of rest. There’s no luxury to do that. Right now we’re in a battle to get to a playoff run. I’d like to see us push for the next few weeks to get to a place where we have enough cushion. I’m not putting in to be the first one to get a break, but I know I could use it, I know other guys could use it.”
Trainers toil on Kobe Bryant’s knees. Derek Fisher played short minutes Friday. It is a veteran team, built for days off in the playoffs, not four games in five days.
“It’s there and it’s evident, because you feel it,” Fox said. “When you start to think about the playoffs and you start to think about why you push through a year like this, it’s to get to that point.... April, May, June, something just takes over your aches and pains and fatigue. For those 38 to 48 minutes you play, it doesn’t matter. You find a way to get through it. So, right now, knowing that’s going to be the case, we’re trying to get to that point.”
The moment they’re playing for. Jackson will let them know when they’re there.