I knew the L.A. Lakers were dead after their epic collapse in game 1 of their series against the Dallas Mavericks.
The Lakers for years have made flipping the switch an art form. They lull through the regular season, have games where everyone questions their mindset and then once mid-March hits things get back to normal.
It happened again this year as the Lakers sleepwalked from November to February in a stretch that included terrible losses to the Charlotte Bobcats and Cleveland Cavaliers. Once the second half of the season hit, the Lakers turned it on and began to resemble the title contender that we all knew they were.
They won 17 of 18 and had an outside shot at being the number one seed in the Western Conference as the San Antonio Spurs began to show the chinks in their armor. They positioned themselves perfectly at the 2 slot with a first round matchup against the New Orleans Hornets. Even though at times they looked sluggish you saw the reasons why they were going to win the NBA title.
Andrew Bynum was a beast beneath the rim, Lamar Odom was all over the floor and Kobe Bryant was, well, Kobe Bryant. Their size and experience pummeled the Hornets and with the Spurs falling to the Grizzlies I expected them to roll through the rest of the West without consequence. Especially against a Dallas team the about 80% of the country had losing to Portland.
And then game 1 happened.
Up 16 in the second half the Lakers looked as if they were in control. Then Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs rolled back thanks to a combination of defense on their part and horrendous execution on the Lakers part. Well that and Dirk went HAM.
His 11 in the 4th quarter combined with the overall sense of urgency that he and the rest of the Mavs played with shock the Lakers and they couldn’t recover. Pau Gasol was a statue, Ron Artest chucked up a few bad shots and Kobe couldn’t close. In a complete role reversal it was the Mavs showing that they had the guts to hold on to a late lead while the Lakers fell into oblivion.
After that 96-94 loss, the Lakers chances at another title faded.
Game 2 came around and the Lakers looked like mush. There was no energy, no sense of urgency and even worse execution on offense and defense. J.J. Barea, yes J.J. Barea looked like a Puerto Rican John Stockton as he carved up the Lakers point guards in the fourth quarter and made the Lakers look a total embarrassment. He toyed with them so much that Artest received a one game suspension for trying to clothesline him at the end of the game.
Afterwards Bynum talked of chemistry issues, the Artest incident brought back concerns of his anger issues, and everyone from analysts to my barber highlighted the poor point guard play. The Lakers were heading to Dallas down 2-0 and having to deal with a more focused than ever Dirk Nowitzki.
(By the way, if the Lakers needed an influence as a means to give them a boost, they should’ve looked at Dirk. Dirk knows that he’s close to the end of his time in the league. He’s still playing at a high level at age 33 but that won’t last much longer. Combine that with Jason Kidd on his last legs, Tyson Chandler’s impending free agency and the Mavs close to the end of their amazing run and Dirk is hungrier than ever.
Three years ago Dirk was still a little timid in late game situations, he was still looking for help, now he’s saying screw it, this might be my last shot and I’ve got to take advantage of this while I can. If the Lakers played with a third of his sense of urgency then this still might be a series.)
Game 3 was the Lakers last stand. They knew that their task at hand was against all odds, but they came out with energy and had a spark. You saw Bynum prove once again how important he was to the Lakers, you saw Lamar Odom provide a spark in the starting five for the suspended Artest, hell you saw Phil Jackson smack Gasol twice in the chest and get in his grill telling him to man up… yet when it all boiled down to it, the Lakers inconsistencies, and Dirk’s will, killed them in the end.
Up 7 with a little over five minutes to go, Dirk and company went on a 18-6 including Dirk knocking one home from close range that gave the Mavs the lead for good and pretty much ended this series.
In short, once again Kobe and the Lakers couldn’t close. Weird to think that a two-time defending champion shouldn’t take care of a team that was thought to be the weakest of the top 3 seeds once the playoffs began.
To Kobe Bryant this series isn’t over. He still thinks the Lakers have a shot. Kobe, you don’t.
This team sleepwalked for way too long and thought that it could turn it on like it always does. That was not the case for this year.
The Lakers will lose this series, watch Phil Jackson retire and watch a new champion become crowned. It was not the way any of us envisioned it playing out, but after game 1 of this series you had a feeling that maybe something like this was at hand.