Things are different in Colorado
First, the benediction:
Our Father, we know Thou takest no side in games among Thy creatures, but just this once, please let our Nuggets, whose piety and love for You never waned in their many trials, moral or criminal, beat the Lakers, who are swollen and corpulent as pigs with success.
OK, let’s have a big Colorado welcome for the porkers, er, Lakers!
It’s a far different place the Lakers flew to Friday, with a Nuggets banner flying alongside the Stars and Stripes and the Colorado flag atop the Capitol building in Denver.
Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter declared this “Nuggets May-nia Month,” on the Capitol steps, surrounded by the Nuggets dancers in go-go boots and Rocky, the team’s mascot.
Ritter said he tried to reach California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to make the traditional wager of local fare -- say, a six-pack of Coors against a “Star Trek” DVD -- but the Governator didn’t call back.
Actually, with enthusiasm running below statewide mobilization, Schwarzenegger designated May “Older Californians Month,” which obviously has zip to do with the young, restless Lakers.
So much for comparative impact, one more thing tilting away from the Lakers, although it’s the least of their concerns.
The Lakers have tangible problems, which you can sense if you watch them play and then discount everything they say.
After Thursday’s Game 2 loss, they trotted out the whole no-biggie mantra once again: We remain confident. . . . It was disappointing to blow that 13-point lead in 2:40. . . . The Nuggets are explosive. . . . We can win in Denver.
These days, the story is what you don’t see the Lakers do -- such as dominate inside with their two 7-footers -- and what they don’t talk about.
Such as, there’s a problem with Andrew Bynum.
It’s not coincidental, or situational, that Bynum has started the last five games but has averaged only 19 minutes and hasn’t gone past 22.
Thursday night, Phil Jackson took him out four minutes into the second half and didn’t put him back in.
Friday, Jackson said it was because of Denver’s small lineup, etc.
Bynum said it was OK and he’s there to play as much as they need him, etc.
In real life, Jackson doesn’t like Bynum’s attitude, effort and offense-first outlook.
Bynum insists he’s not upset, but his people definitely are.
Team Bynum has been calling General Manager Mitch Kupchak all postseason -- and anyone else around the beat whose phone number it has.
Friday morning, the phones were ringing off the hooks.
Despite anything his people have ever said, Bynum has always maintained he’s fine.
Nevertheless, there can’t be a complete split between what they say and what he thinks, which would account for what the Lakers consider an attitude.
Just to clear up a few basic points:
Jackson isn’t going anywhere.
Bynum isn’t going anywhere, either.
Bynum has a contract (the thing he signed that says he gets $54 million) with nothing in it that says he has to be happy, or play a certain number of minutes.
These are the playoffs (high point of the season), with his team (other guys in the same uniform) pursuing a title (championship that comes with a gaudy ring and a few bucks). This is not only a big deal, it frees you from being asked about not winning one the rest of your life by the media (little people milling around asking dumb questions).
Here’s what would be really good for Bynum to remember:
He got here by having a great attitude. Clueless as he was upon arrival, he wasn’t coddled, nurtured or even praised.
The Lakers not only didn’t brag about him to the media, if someone asked about him, they said, “We’ll see.”
It took him three seasons to figure out what being in shape meant, or which end was up, but he threw himself into it. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, his mentor and not one to hold his tongue, said working with him was “a joy.”
For three years, Bynum persevered being benched, zinged, and Kobe Bryant’s demand that he be traded, getting ever better until the Lakers had to start him.
However, with Bynum’s injury last season ahead of extension talks in summer, his people became hyper-sensitive to conjecture about his rehabilitation.
This season, with his $54-million deal in, off to a slow start and for the first time feeling the weight of expectations, his people began broadcasting their alarm.
At the same time, Bynum began complaining about the media to Abdul-Jabbar, who encouraged him to get over it.
Now, with Bynum floundering in his crash comeback in the playoffs, his people are really upset. For their part, the Lakers aren’t happy, either.
So, no, it’s not a mystery why they haven’t been able to get to that dominating inside game of theirs after all.
How it ends remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: Things are a long way from OK in Lakerdom.