Lakers Are Exposed for What They Are

The hallway, it turns out, wasn't big enough for both of them.

That lump in the Laker throat was too large. That vacancy in the Laker eyes was too wide.

On the threshold of stepping into a predestined and prepackaged Hallway Series on Saturday, the Laker frailties were too bloated to fit through the door.

At least for the next two weeks, the Clippers will have Staples Center and the city all to themselves.

While the Lakers have been banished to remorse, where they will hang out with regret.

"How does this happen in a Game 7?" asked Luke Walton.

How, indeed, does a team come within six seconds of winning a playoff series, only to be crushed for three hours in losing it?

How does a team's star player win a playoff game by making two memorable shots in a blink, then watch his team lose the series by taking only three shots in an entire half?

From a 3-1 series lead to a 31-point loss, there was symmetry in the digits but suffocation in the play, the Lakers collapsing in the deciding Game 7 of their first-round playoff series with the Phoenix Suns, 121-90.

"I don't know what to say," said Laker Coach Phil Jackson.

Well, I do.

As high-noon showdowns go, this was one guy drawing and the other guy diving.

As heavyweight final rounds go, this was one guy clubbing and the other guy climbing out of the ropes.

As closing sprints go, Saturday's Kentucky Derby was closer.

Those planning on flying Laker flags from their cars this week, change the color to white.

"It's a shame," Jackson said.

For an even more accurate description, remove the last letter from shame.

"It would have been different if we fought them all the way to the end today and lost at the buzzer," Lamar Odom said. "But to have it happen like this ... "

It was Raja-Bell-popping-his-jersey ugly.

It was the Gorilla-pretending-to-be-Kobe-Bryant-on-a-fishing-vacation awful.

But at least it was honest.

This is where the Lakers are. This is who the Lakers are.

Too inexperienced for the great moments. Too undermanned for the great teams.

Strong enough to push a better opponent to the precipice, but not strong enough to avoid being suddenly picked up and tossed over the edge with a piercing wail.

Close, but exploding cigar.

"We had to find a way to dig inside tonight," Odom said. "We were unable to do that."

For six games, the two teams fought back and forth in one of the tautest, most dramatic NBA playoff series' in recent memory.

But in Game 7, the Lakers never led. Not once. They trailed by 10 points in the first five minutes, Jackson called timeout, and that was that.

"To be honest, I think some of us came out a little overwhelmed," Walton said.

All except Kobe Bryant, to be exact.

Odom was awful, regressing from his previous playoff toughness by making only five of 14 shots, getting constantly beat inside on defense, and missing plays because he was whining to the referees.

"We didn't come to play," he acknowledged.

How could they not come to play?

Kwame Brown was invisible. Smush Parker was wild. Walton was lost.

After winning three games with great team basketball, guess how many assists the Lakers had in the first quarter? One.

After winning three games with inside pounding, guess how they played in the paint? The small Suns outscored them there by 10 points.

Somewhere in the desert today, Leandro Barbosa is still making open layups. Somewhere, Shawn Marion is flying over people for rebounds.

Hey, at least Tim Thomas didn't make any three-point baskets, huh?

Just think, if Thomas had only missed that last-second shot on Thursday night at Staples Center, the Lakers would have spent Saturday night in the Hallway.

Just think, if only the Lakers, who had one foul to give, had fouled Thomas before he pump-faked on that shot!

Just think ... sorry.

After Saturday, there's enough thinking around here to last all summer.

"It's something to remember for next year," Odom said.

Just in case anyone might forget, Bryant offered an indelible reminder in the second half.

After scoring 23 of the Lakers 45 first-half points on good shooting -- only to see his team still trailing by 15 -- Bryant shut it down.

He took only three second-half shots, missing all of them. He went to the free-throw line only once.

During a time when you might think he would be gunning to get the Lakers back into the game, he scored one second-half point.

It was selfish, it was silly. But it didn't cost the Lakers the game and it made a much bigger point.

For the Lakers to continue winning with the team style of play that worked so well earlier in the series, Bryant needs more team.

He needs players whose offensive struggles won't hurt their defensive focus.

"Balancing everything off our offense has hurt us all year," Odom said.

He needs players who won't be afraid to make the big play in the final minutes.

"When you get back into these types of games, everybody has to get into a rhythm," Bryant said.

Steve Nash was surprised.

"I don't know what to expect from him," he said of Bryant.

"Sometimes it's a little strange."

Jackson, who agrees with Bryant, was not surprised.

"We wanted to get back in the ballgame, we were running stuff through other guys," he said, adding, "Kobe just sat on that game plan."

This summer, somehow, some way, as salary-cap-impossible as it sounds, the Lakers need to find a point guard and a power forward.

Anything less, and it's this, a first-round series that is part wonderful, part wild, but ultimately unworthy of a franchise accustomed only to spring greatness.

Anything less, and you have what happened before the fourth quarter Saturday, when Suns' lead cheerleader Cedric Ceballos held up a sign.

"Beat L.A." read the front.

He turned it over.

"The Clippers" read the back.

A sign of the times.

Bill Plaschke can be reached at To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to

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