Humbling the Lakers can be a lesson in futility
On the positive side for the Lakers, they’re really learning their lesson this spring.
Also, they can stop watching Game 6 in Boston, which wasn’t working as an inspiration, and was just topped by their embarrassment, er, learning experience in Houston.
And you never have to worry that they’ll be embarrassed again. If that didn’t do it, nothing ever will!
Aside from that, things have been better, as they’re derided nationwide, “Lakers” becomes synonymous with “No Heart,” and pundits pick Denver to beat them.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said the mood at Monday’s practice was “somber,” although he added his players “recognize we went to Houston and did what we needed to do.”
Yes, he’s still upbeat!
Not that that’s getting old, but the Lakers’ logo ought to be a smiley face with a Band-Aid over its eye.
In the good news for Lakers fans, it’s an act.
Aliens haven’t kidnapped Phil and Kobe Bryant and replaced them with smiling clones.
In private, Jackson told his team he was “dismayed” but hid his dismay from the media, like David St. Hubbins in “Spinal Tap,” explaining how he relays suggestions from his brutally honest girlfriend to the band:
“She gives me the brutally honest version and I kind of tart it up for them.”
What’s going on -- and has gone on since last spring’s debacle in the Finals -- is the result of Jackson’s decision to keep the heat off his young players.
Meanwhile, Bryant hasn’t bitten a single teammate in the neck, like Dracula, although I’ll bet he’s eyed a few.
This is no coincidence. Kobe and Phil aren’t just on the same page these days, they all but share one brain.
“Trevor Ariza is a young guy, this is his first time in it, and we’ve got to get him going,” Jackson said. “We also know that Sasha Vujacic’s been struggling and Shannon Brown’s a new player on our ballclub. They all play for us, but to depend on them, we’re still not exactly sure where they’re at.
“I haven’t called them out in this regard yet. I watched Boston go through it last year; they couldn’t win off their home floor in the first two rounds, yet they got better and better.”
Did I mention I think this is a miscalculation?
The Celtics were thin, ran all-out all season, then a year ago found they could barely keep up with the athletic Hawks, or score against the rock-ribbed Cavaliers.
Focus and effort weren’t issues. At this level, if those aren’t givens, someone’s up past his bedtime.
Add in the Lakers’ new Boston-style, funneling, helping, Swiss-cheese defense, and a bench that hasn’t been the same with Ariza and Lamar Odom starting, and you have a team that better score a lot because its opponents will.
We’ve seen this since the favored Lakers arrived in Boston last spring for the Finals, with Jackson’s whimsy -- he was particularly amused at the Willis Reed treatment Paul Pierce got for his dramatic return after leaving Game 1 in a wheelchair -- making them look less like the hollow-eyed Celtics and more like high school kids on a class trip.
Not that much has changed, as per these excerpts from stories I wrote:
* June 9, 2008, after falling behind, 2-0: Lakers hearts remained light, right up until Game 2, with Jackson asked beforehand if they had prepared to play against the injured Pierce.
“We discussed the wheelchair a little bit,” said Jackson, breaking up the interview room.
* June 18, 2008, after the Celtics’ 131-92 rout in Game 6: Jackson, looking no more fazed than usual, was asked if he was surprised by the final score.
“I don’t know what the final score was,” he said. “Let me look it up for you.”
He glanced down at a box score.
“Yes,” said Jackson.
* Dec. 14, 2008, with the Lakers at 20-3: An uneasy breeze stirs in Lakerdom. Huge leads vanish. The young reserves are zinged for being wild.
The Lakers say they’re inconsistent. Actually, compared to the all-heart Celtics and the hard-nosed Cavaliers, they just don’t play very hard.
Jackson, content to let events unfold over the season, remains serene.
Reporter: “Do you feel you’re saying the same stuff after every game -- we played OK, Pau Gasol was great, but nobody else stood out?”
Jackson: “You know, I thought Fish [Derek Fisher] played very well. Maybe I should mention that. His defense was solid. He made some steals. I like that.”
Reporter: “But do you sense repetition?”
Jackson, smiling: “Maybe I’ll put it on tape and just run it right here on the podium so you guys don’t have to ask me questions.”
* April 24, 2009, after the Jazz comes from 13 points down to win Game 3: Jackson actually welcomed reports Utah center Mehmet Okur would return in Game 4.
“We need to have a [Utah] lineup out there that challenges us and makes us play the way we should play,” Jackson said.
Congratulations to Utah, then, for staying alive until it could finally field a lineup the Lakers noticed.
You think Houston was embarrassing?
If the Lakers want to win grown-up awards, they’d better learn to live up to grown-up standards and stand up to grown-up heat, or there are more where these came from.