LOS ANGELES CA - DECEMBER 25: Head coach Phil Jackson of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts during the game against the Miami Heat at Staples Center on December 25 2010 in Los Angeles California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and or using this photograph User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
I'm having real trouble putting words to screen regarding the Lakers' current funk. It's not like there isn't a wealth of topics to discuss or anything ... you could close your eyes, point blindly at the Lakers roster, and land on a player who is underperforming right now. Save Lamar Odom, there isn't a single Laker who has had a good December. Whoops, forgot about Sasha Vujacic, he's doing alright too.
So let's blame it up, shall we? Last night was Kobe Bryant's turn in the stocks, shooting the Lakers further out of a contest they weren't going to win if he had played straight up. Good thing, too, it had been three solid weeks since I'd read anything about Kobe being too selfish. Pau Gasol has gotten a fair bit of guff, in large part because he started the season as an MVP candidate, but he's spent the past few weeks barely surpassing journeyman. Ron Artest and Derek Fisher have taken rides on the criticism carousel, but they are too unimportant to go after individually. The bench might as well be called the "Bench Mob II" at this point, and that is not a compliment. Yesterday, I talked about how the Lakers wouldn't be motivated if they went up against a team of monsters from Space Jam. Today, I'm wondering if those monsters didn't steal the Lakers' abilities instead. There's so much to talk about, and yet I can't come up with a single original thing to say about any of it. Why?
Because we've been through this before. Last year, just before the Lakers beat all comers en route to a second straight championship, they went through a period of basketball just as bad as this. Bad losses to bad teams, huge losses to good teams, the Lakers went into the playoffs looking like easy 1st round fodder, and they ended the playoffs with a parade.
I'm not making light of how the Lakers are playing. I'm not telling you they can play much better just by deciding to. I'm not ignoring all the warning signs that are telling us this Laker team is not as good as we thought they were. Last night, they were easily handled by an opponent who didn't really play all that well themselves, and it wasn't (entirely) because they were out-hustled, out-worked, and out-smarted. It's because the Spurs are a better team right now.
Right now. In this moment, for whatever reason, the Lakers blow. They don't have a single player on the court who requires an automatic double team. Until they prove otherwise, both Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol can be played straight up, and if that happens, the Lakers offense shuts down dramatically. Even when an open shot is created, no matter who the open shot is for, there's a good chance the Lakers will miss. Shannon Brown, Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Ron Artest, Derek Fisher ... there isn't a single perimeter player worth passing to. Over the entire month of December, the Lakers are shooting 2 full percentage points lower than the league's worst 3 pt % average on the season. This is the reality. This is who the Lakers are ... right now.
The Lakers are a better team than this, and at some point they will play like it. This has nothing to do with switch-flipping. Do you remember what changed last year? Do you remember how the Lakers suddenly improved in the playoffs? It's not because they instantly decided "OK, now I guess we'll try." It's not because they "flipped the switch." God flipped the switch. Fate did. The Law of Averages, regression to the mean, whatever you want to call it, the Lakers improved significantly from April to June, and it had nothing to do with increased effort or higher stakes. It simply happened, and it will happen again, because that's the way the world works. Chaos theory dictates that the Lakers will shoot better, get more breaks, and look more like the team that has hoisted the trophy the last two seasons, and chaos dictates that this will happen because it is exactly what is not happening right now.
Tonight the Lakers play the New Orleans Hornets, who know a thing or two about crashing to earth after a strong start. After starting the season 11-1, the Hornets are just 7-12 in their last 19 games. They just lost on Monday by double digits to the Minnesota Timberwolves. They don't even have an owner anymore, having been bought by the league because the previous owner didn't have enough money to pay the bills anymore. That means that, technically, the Lakers own a small portion of the team they are facing. Maybe that's why the Hornets have been so bad lately. They still have Chris Paul, who is as strong a talent as there is in this league, and he likes to operate via a mechanism (the pick and roll) that has a knack for tying the Lakers in knots. Could the Lakers lose by double figures again? Yes. Can they get off the schneid and beat this very beatable team? Yes. Will they finally start playing better?
Only the higher forces dictating this world know that. Yesteday's theme was get busy living or get busy dying. Today, I have only one request. Get busy regressing.