Throughout the playoffs, the Lakers have been called many things. Heartless. Soft. Arrogant. Weak. Un-focused. Lacsidasical. Inconsistent. Some titles have been deserved, some have not. Only a few, however, have mentioned the attribute that is the single biggest reason why the Lakers might still be the favorites for the NBA championship.
For all their faults, the Lakers have yet to lose back to back games in the playoffs. For all of their inconsistency, they’ve yet to lose 3 games in a row since they acquired Pau Gasol. They may get pushed around in a single game. They may put forth an effort more suited for a Rec league than the NBA playoffs from time to time. They may even look like an inferior team every once in a while. But in the game after the game? Toughness, determination, focus, and execution are all staples of this team in the game after a loss. And if we look at the team’s season, it’s something we should have known all along.
Think about all of the Laker’s biggest wins during the regular season.
-Coming off a stretch of poor play, including losses to bottom feeders Indiana and Sacramento, and back to back losses to Miami and Orlando, the Lakers looked like they would get annihilated by Boston in the first rematch of last year’s Finals. Instead, the team showed up strong down the stretch and ended Boston’s 19 game winning streak on Christmas Day.
-Following two tough losses at San Antonio and home to Orlando, the Lakers dominate Cleveland from start to finish in the first meeting of the two teams who would end up with the best records in the NBA.
-Having lost 3 out of 5, and following a brutal road loss to the TrailBlazers, the Lakers go into Texas and bang out two wins at San Antonio and at Houston.
And, of course, the biggest piece of evidence there is.
-Two games into a 6 game road trip, the Lakers lose Andrew Bynum for a large chunk of the season, and respond by going undefeated on that trip, including road wins at Boston (in overtime) and at Cleveland (the first, and only legitimate, home loss all season for the Cavs.) in back to back games.
Many have said that regular season results don’t matter when the 2nd season starts. In talking about wins and losses, this is absolutely correct. LA swept Houston in the regular season, but a couple of those were close games that could have gone either way. Come playoff time, we all saw what happened. LA also got swept by the Bobcats, and does anybody think that would stay true to form in a 7 game playoff series? But the regular season does give a window into a team’s qualities. Many of those negative attributes listed earlier could be seen from the team in the regular season. So we should have known that the Lakers would come out flat in a couple games in these playoffs. We should have known that the Yao-less Rockets wouldn’t have their attention right off the bat. This is what they’ve done all season long.
We also should have known that the Lakers would go into Denver, after losing in LA, and summon up whatever grit, determination, and intensity was necessary to get the job done. We should have known that a 16 game home win streak means nothing to this team. We should have known that 5280 feet and 18,000 screaming fans were not going to prevent a Lakers victory. This is how they’ve responded to adversity all season long. This is how they’ve responded to adversity all playoffs long.
It’s time we remembered that the Lakers team which frustrated us in the regular season is the same one that frustrates us in the playoffs. But it is also time to remember that that team has consistently been able to respond when the chips are down and the going gets tough, both in and out of the playoffs. We may not like what it takes to get the best out of our team, but there’s no denying it once that best comes out. So the Lakers are exactly the team we thought they were. They are the same team that we saw in the regular season. They play the same way, with the same weaknesses and the same strengths.
I don’t know about you, but that makes me smile, because in the regular season, I thought the Lakers looked like champions.