After the past two NBA Finals, it appeared that Pau Gasol shook the soft label, but this season he's been as soft as ever. Photo by Jeff LewisShip the title to San Antonio, Boston, or Miami. The Lakers are 0-3 against title contending teams.By Jason LewisSentinel Sports Editor
The Lakers may be on pace to have a similar record as last season, but after another crushing defeat to a title contending team, it has become obvious that this team is worse than last season. The Lakers are 0-3 against the San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics, and Miami Heat, and they have lost by an average of 14.6 points per game. Two of those embarrassing losses were at Staples Center. The Lakers have displayed a lack of toughness, grit, energy, and hustle. It is like they are just going through the regular season motions. The only player that appeared as if he wanted to win the game against the Celtics was Kobe Bryant. But as great as Bryant is, playing 1-on-5 basketball against a great team like the Celtics is a recipe for a loss. Lakers Head Coach Phil Jackson said that it did not seem like anybody else wanted the ball late in the game when Bryant decided to try to win by himself. The Lakers’ bigs were pushed around and did not bother getting back on defense, leading to multiple fast breaks by the Celtics. Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo felt that they could run on them because of that. What has happened to Pau Gasol? It looked like he shook the soft label by playing well against the Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard in the NBA Finals two seasons ago, and last year against the Celtics in the Finals. But he is getting pushed around a lot this year, and against the Celtics, he was easily kept out of the paint. Many of his shots came from outside of the key. The Lakers were just as bad on the defensive end of the court. The Celtics shot 60 percent from the field, and 70 percent in the fourth quarter. Ron Artest has been a no show as of late, and Paul Pierce dropped 32 points on him. Artest was so bad that Bryant had to cover Pierce in the fourth period. Things have gotten so bad that now there is trade talk, and the Lakers brass seem to be in support of this. Magic Johnson, who recently sold his shares of the Lakers, believes that a trade needs to happen. "I think we have to," Johnson said. "We have to do something. The Lakers are not responding and two things showed me that – the Miami Heat Christmas game and then the Boston Celtics game [on Sunday]. When you don't get up for your two biggest games during the season and you have flat performances, then you have to start looking at trade possibilities to improve the team and bring some energy to the team and bring some new life to the team."Old age has come up again as a reason why the Lakers are struggling. The Lakers have not only won back-to-back NBA titles, but they have played in the NBA Finals the last three seasons. They have played nearly a season worth of post-season games over that time period. "Unfortunately we're looking old and we're playing old," Johnson said. "We're not responding to the more athletic teams and the quicker teams. So we must change something. I think we have to now look at this team and maybe say we're not good enough. Things might have to change."Jackson seems to be on board with Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak considering a trade, but at the same time this could be a way to motivate the team. A trade really does not make much sense, seeing that the Lakers already have a championship roster. Stripping certain pieces for other pieces may not lead the Lakers to a title, especially with less than half of a season for those new players to get used to playing in Jackson’s system. Jackson needs to figure a way to get the roster that he does have playing better. Time has pretty much run out for the Lakers to catch the Spurs, and it appears that this team is blowing off the regular season. But they need to gear up for the playoffs. Things have looked bad before. Last season they lost seven out of their final 10 regular season games, and many people wrote them off when the playoff started. But they were able to get it together and make another run at the title.
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