Steinberg: NBA title dreams might not be reality

It's an exciting time for Southern California sports. Staples Center just hosted four playoff games in three days, and has two more in store Sunday. The Kings are serious contenders to win the Stanley Cup. The Lakers and Clippers, though, have a much tougher challenge ahead of them.

Having grown up in sunny Southern California, what I knew about hockey could fill about half of a thimble. But I have rooted for the Lakers since the days of Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlin and Elgin Baylor, and I have always empathized with the traditionally inept Clippers. Both teams performed better than expected in the regular season, but the playoff outlook is not bright.

The Lakers have been a premier franchise since they arrived in Southern California. They came from Minnesota, which is why perpetually drought-stricken Southern California has a team nickname connoting a life on inland water. They have won multiple NBA championships thanks to great players such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. On paper, this year's Lakers still look like they should dominate, but the series with Oklahoma City has exposed their weakness. 

Center Andrew Bynum played in the All-Star game this year and forward Pau Gasol has in the past. They are tall, strong and athletic, but not consistent. Bynum takes games and plays off. He should be unstoppable offensively and defensively, but his attitude is not conducive to team play. He draws multiple technical fouls and is difficult to coach. When he decides to play well, the Lakers are successful, but he can simply disappear in games. That's a difficult thing to do at his height.

Gasol has a better attitude but is equally streaky. He is getting older and it shows. Both players are perfect examples to younger athletes of why talent can be outplayed by desire and heart.

The Lakers, who trail the Thunder, 3-1, following Saturday night's 103-100 collapse, have not been able to find a point guard to run the offense since the heyday of Derek Fisher. Point guards can completely alter a team, as Derrick Rose does in Chicago and Chris Paul has done for the Clippers. Ramon Sessions simply can't keep up with the younger OKC players.

And then there's Kobe.

He has had one of the greatest careers in the history of the NBA. His shooting has won countless games in the clutch. In this series, he has not been able to score at dramatic junctures as he has in the past.. He is still brilliant, but is also aging. Oklahoma City, with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, has been fast and accurate. It is sad to watch the Lakers struggle with a younger, more athletic team, but OKC could well win the championship.

This has been the most exciting season for the Clippers since they arrived in Southern California. The trade for Paul brought a spectacular floor leader at point guard, who has a remarkable soft shooting touch and a hyper competitive mentality. Blake Griffin makes crowd-pleasing dunks from every angle. But Griffin is nursing a sprained knee and has not been as effective, and Paul has not been his consistent brilliant self against a seasoned San Antonio Spurs team that has won multiple championships.

The Spurs, who hold a 3-0 edge against a Clippers going into Sunday's elimination game, may be the best coached team in the playoffs. Tim Duncan has been rejuvenated and the Clippers need DeAndre Jordan to neutralize him. The Clippers lost veteran Chauncey Billups early in the season, who would have been critical to their success in this series. The playoff inexperience of this team is no match for the well-oiled Spur machine.

It looks like our hoop dreams for the two local NBA franchises are turning into hoop nightmares. Maybe next year.

LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. His column appears weekly. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports or

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