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Please do not argue with the Sports Editor. It’s like expecting the Lakers to play with some heart. It’s just a bad idea. Illustration by David G. Brown
Pau Gasol may have had a lot on his mind this season, which may have contributed to his poor performance, especially during the playoffs. Photo by Jeff Lewis
By Jason LewisSports Editor
The Lakers have a weakness at point guard. They also struggle defending the pick and roll, and obviously defending the three-point shot. Their bench could be a whole lot better. But even with all of those issues, the biggest one they have is the lack of heart.
The Lakers have a championship roster. All of those same issues were present when the Lakers went to three consecutive NBA Finals, winning the last two. Even though they have had the talent to win titles, they have always lacked heart. They have always lacked grit. They have always lacked the drive to beat the odds.
The past two years the Lakers were simply better then everybody else. The adversities that they faced were when they did not play up to their own standards every game. But this year was different as they seemed old and tired. They seemed to lack a sense of urgency. They seemed to lack the hunger to make a run at the title.
The odds were not stacked against the Lakers, but they still flamed out in embarrassing fashion.
This current Laker team was bound to lose at some point, but swept out of the playoffs? Blowing fourth period leads twice against the Dallas Mavericks? Getting blown out by 36 points in the final loss? Really?
It’s understandable for the Lakers to flame out like this after Shaquille O’Neal was traded and they featured the likes of Kwame Brown and Smush Parker. Or after Showtime ended, when they featured Cedric Ceballos (when he wasn’t hanging out on Lake Havasu during the regular season), Vlade Divac, and Elden Campbell.
Those Laker teams were not contenders. They were just footnotes in Lakers lore. But this Laker team, they were champions, and that’s not how champions go out.
Outside of Kobe Bryant, nobody on the Lakers showed up for this series.
Ron Artest hit only two three-point shots in the series, Derek Fisher showed his age by not being a factor in any game (he only hit two three-point shots), Andrew Bynum played well in Games 2 and 3, but his wannabe tough act was more embarrassing than effective, and the Lakers bench was outscored by the Mavericks bench 198-89 in the series. The Mavericks bench scored 86 points in Game 4.
But the biggest problem for the Lakers, the one player who laid the biggest egg, was Pau Gasol. He looked like a shell of himself. He wasn’t black swan at all, but a whole lot of white swan.
Gasol has been called soft for years, but he has always proved his critics wrong by helping the Lakers win titles. Last year during the post season Gasol averaged 19.6 points per game and 11.1 rebounds while shooting 53 percent from the field. The year before that his numbers were similar in the postseason as he was a key factor in the two championships. But this post season he averaged 13.1 points per game and only 7.8 rebounds while shooting 42 percent from the field.
There has been a lot of speculation about off the court issues revolving around Gasol, and he has acknowledged that there was something going on. But for him to allow those issues to greatly affect his play shows that everybody who called him soft for years were absolutely correct.
The Lakers were punked out of the playoffs, and Gasol was the biggest disappointment of them all.
Champions are not supposed to lose like this. Look at the Boston Celtics. They have heart, they have grit. They aren’t going to be punked out of the playoffs by anybody.
The Celtics have the drive to overcome the odds.
Two seasons ago the Celtics were without Kevin Garnett, and they were still one game away from making it to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Last season the Celtics were written off in the second half of the season, but they ended up only one win away from winning the NBA Finals.
The Celtics are a team that plays above their abilities because they hate losing. Even this year, as they look old and overmatched against the Miami Heat, the Celtics are going out fighting. There will be no sweep, and the Celtics are giving the Heat all that they can handle.
The Lakers are the opposite. Even in series where they were heavily favored, they still struggled.
Two years ago the Houston Rockets took the Lakers to Game 7 in the second round of the playoffs. The Denver Nuggets gave the Lakers a scare the very next round. Last year the Oklahoma City Thunder gave the Lakers all that they could handle.
It is not surprising that when the Lakers were out matched by the Mavericks, they just folded. They just took the loss like it wasn’t a big deal.
The last run for Phil Jackson and this Lakers team could not have ended worse. Their worst attribute, the lack of heart, killed what could have been another great run for this historic franchise.
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