YOU OLD SOFTIES
In a quiet moment inside the Lakers coaches’ office, some 30 minutes after all the chaos on the American Airlines Center court had subsided, Coach Phil Jackson ambled in with his tote bag on his shoulder, wearing a look of finality.
Jackson then said that even before the Dallas Mavericks trounced the Lakers on Sunday, even before his Lakers coaching career came to a close, he and Kobe Bryant sensed the hunt for a third consecutive NBA championship could be headed for a premature end.
The Mavericks’ 122-86 blowout victory in Game 4, which completed their 4-0 sweep of the Western Conference semifinal series, perhaps came at the right time for the Lakers.
They appeared to be teetering, perhaps because this was the 77th postseason game they had played since 2008, nearly an extra 82-game regular season in a four-year span.
“I was talking to Kobe [after the game] and we both agreed it was better to lose now than to get to the [NBA] Finals and lose,” Jackson said. “Going all the way and losing in the Finals, now that’s really tough.”
The four-season run for the Lakers began in 2008, when they lost in the Finals to the Boston Celtics in six games. They won the next two championships and were favored to win a third consecutive title when this season started.
But all that ended Sunday, when the Mavericks handed the Lakers the second-worst playoff defeat in franchise history. The worst was a 39-point loss to Boston, 131-92, in Game 6 of the 2008 Finals.
It got even uglier for the Lakers in the fourth quarter, when Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum lost their composure and were ejected.
The Lakers were swept in a best-of-seven series for only the seventh time in franchise history. The last time it happened was in the 1999 conference semifinals against San Antonio.
That sweep led to the Lakers’ hiring of Jackson. He won five championships with the Lakers (2000, ‘01, ‘02, ’09 and ‘10) -- but Sunday he endured the first playoff series sweep of his coaching career.
Jackson, who announced before this season that he would retire when it was over, leaves with 11 NBA championships, the most ever by a coach.
“It’s tough to put into words what he’s meant to me,” said Bryant, who had only 17 points on seven-for-18 shooting Sunday. “I grew up under him. The way I approach things, the way I think about things -- not only in basketball but in life in general -- a lot of it comes from him. It’s a little weird for me to think about how next year’s going to be.”
The Mavericks simply buried the Lakers from long range Sunday, making 20 of 32 three-point attempts.
The 20 three-pointers tied an NBA playoff record, as did Dallas’ 11 threes in the first half. Sixth man Jason Terry (32 points) also tied a league postseason mark with nine three-pointers (in 10 attempts).
“They just kicked our [butt],” Odom said.
Odom was the first to lose his cool when he threw a forearm at Dirk Nowitzki with 9 minutes 6 seconds to play and the Lakers trailing by 26 points.
He was called for a flagrant foul and was ejected.
“It’s a little embarrassing,” Odom said. “I didn’t mean anything by it.”
Less than a minute later, Bynum threw a forearm into the rib cage of an in-flight Jose Barea as he drove for a layup. Barea (15 points) hit the court hard.
Bynum was assessed a flagrant foul and ejected with 8:21 left, the Lakers trailing by 32.
“For me, it was embarrassing having the smallest guy on the court keep running down the lane and then making shots,” Bynum said. “So I just fouled him.”
The NBA will look into the fouls and determine whether one or both players should be suspended for one or two games at the start of next season.
“Maybe this season wasn’t meant to be,” Odom said. “It’s hard to win three in a row. We take everybody’s best shot and they got through.”
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