Lakers have no fight, and that’s no good
Darkness descended upon South Beach on Thursday, omnipotent and overpowering for one team, just plain frightful for the other.
For the first time ever, the Miami Heat wore all black.
If things don’t change, Lakers fans might have to start wearing it too.
The Heat intimidated. The Lakers cowered. The Heat fought. The Lakers fled.
The game began with dueling violinists welcoming the Heat to the AmericanAirlines Arena with a hard-rock tune. By the time the game ended, the two dudes should have sent the Lakers off with a dirge.
This is was more than a 98-87 Heat victory in a game that wasn’t nearly so close. This was a glimpse into the next three months for a Lakers team that is simply not built for a championship run.
In what was supposed to be an early-season statement, the Lakers were a silent movie. In what was supposed to be a physical game against a title-caliber team that was missing star guard Dwyane Wade, the Lakers were Miami mice.
“They played harder than we did tonight,” said Kobe Bryant afterward, his right wrist covered in what looks like an oven mitt, his smile slowly disappearing.
Across the locker room, Derek Fisher sat with two giant bags of ice on each knee while soaking his feet in a bucket full of the stuff.
“We usually bring a sense of energy and passion, but tonight it’s not there,” he said. “I can’t enumerate the reasons why, but it wasn’t there.”
Scattered on the floor around the two Lakers leaders were hastily thrown wads of white tape, rolling and leaking Gatorade bottles, some tiny empty vials of energy drink, but no easy answers.
They are 10-6, but they have yet to beat a serious contender, losing to the Chicago Bulls, the Portland Trail Blazers, the Clippers and now the Heat. They have lost just once at home but won only once in six tries on the road, a place where championship mettle is formed and honed.
When the going gets tough, they get chewed up into tiny World Peaces, and it happened again Thursday. Or didn’t you see LeBron James flying past Bryant, or Chris Bosh overpowering Andrew Bynum, or those three late possessions that should embarrass and enrage?
Bryant had a pass batted back to him by Battier, then threw up an airball three-point attempt at the shot-clock buzzer. Moments later, Bynum’s shot was blocked by a flu-ridden James. Then James stole a pass from Fisher that no teammate even acknowledged, and rambled down for a slam dunk that helped him complete a 31-point night.
It was three plays that told the story of the game, involving players whose presence revealed the anger of a coach. Even though his team trailed by 21 points entering the fourth quarter with a game in Orlando less than 24 hours away, Mike Brown insisted on finishing the game with his starters on the court.
Said Brown: “I wanted to see if they were going to fight.”
Said Bynum, when asked if they were fighting: “Not really.”
Yeah, it was that kind of night, with the team appearing now to have two distinct problems, both of which need to be solved before they suffocate.
They have a roster problem. You can hear it in the tunnel talk, in the hallway whispers, in the mutterings of players trudging toward the bus. They need the quick sort of playmaker that they lost in the failed deal for Chris Paul. Or they need the sort of energetic front-line guy that they traded away in Lamar Odom.
This roster needs help — Darius Morris played 18 minutes? Really? — and for the first time in recent memory, folks are questioning the Buss family’s commitment to providing that help at the cost of increased payroll. The Lakers currently have a $9-million trade exception they acquired when they dealt Odom to the Dallas Mavericks. They said the deal wasn’t about money. Oh yeah? Then they should prove it by acquiring someone whose salary fits into that exception, with candidates including the likes of Memphis’ O.J. Mayo and Minnesota’s Michael Beasley, among many others.
The Lakers’ other problem can be fixed if the first problem is fixed. It’s a perception problem between Brown and Bryant. No, they’re not fighting, but they are headed in that direction if something doesn’t change.
Brown understandably wonders if Bryant can physically survive a playoff push with his current amount of shots and minutes. He feels they can’t win if others can’t handle the load. He has asked Bryant to back off, which happened Thursday when Bryant took just eight shots in the first half.
Yet the Lakers trailed by 15 at halftime, and Bryant was never able to find his rhythm, finishing with just eight baskets in 41 minutes. Now Bryant is thinking that until the Lakers give him some scoring help, he needs to go back to his gunning ways to give them a chance.
“We talked a little bit, and we treated some things differently tonight,” Bryant said Thursday night. “But maybe we should go back to the things we were doing.”
I took his quotes to Brown who, as always, just smiled.
“Kobe is a machine and he has great confidence in himself, and I have confidence in him too,” Brown said. “But the reality of it is, I’ve got to be confident in others too I want other guys to have to try to play.”
Next up on this quick two-day trip, the Magic and center Dwight Howard, a game that will probably change little unless the Lakers can somehow bring him home with them.
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