So here we are again, one year later. Similar aura, similar ambiance, and very a familiar situation. Nothing much has changed. The playoffs blast off in a week, something many of us wake up wishing for after another late-night alcoholic binge to somehow drown the sorrow that entails a Laker loss. Just a little over a week ago we were in ecstasy, our daydreams slowly morphing into reality. We envisioned the Lakers catching the Spurs and overtaking them for not only first in the west, but hell, first overall. Our squad had been romping on nearly every team. Never had our beloved Purp 'n' Gold looked so formidable, never had the MOAT looked so immense. It was enigmatic; when was the last time this team ever given us so much joy finishing up the interminable 82 game season? I don't know about you, but my head ached trying to reach into the fathoms of my hippocampus to locate a memory that encompassed what we were witnessing recently.
When exactly have the Lakers bought it? It seems most evident when the game holds much more value personally to them as a team over any high octane anticipated game marked on the calendar. More so when they're trying to prove a point. Lakers don't buy into the hype fests. They just don't do it, especially when everyone expects them to nab the "W." Our team may be a champion but they hate being on top. They seem to disregard the notion that they have it all. While any other team in their position would boast such a talent by murdering teams on a nightly basis, Lakers love being the underdog, having the world of hate on their shoulders. It's just not in their blood to exploit easy situations and capitalize on them. They remain even-keel till they're pressed against the wall. They thrive being on the edge and having their foot only inches away from the cliff rather than on the opponent's throat. It's what fuels them, sets a conflagration in their hearts to bite back when nothing else is left and that all starts with our Zen Master and co-captains, Mamba & Sir I-Have-Intangibles. They're not the SA Spurs nor the Boston Celtics, who relentlessly pound the other team even after their souls have tossed the white flag (besides the beat down on Cleveland after which Wave Ocean was found crying behind Lebron's estate) The Lakers stand tallest when the critics endow them with Frito chips on the shoulder.
Well, somewhere sitting in his reclusive chamber, the Zen Master must have read my thoughts, because soon I saw my all my euphoria depart as fast as it had come. Lakers drop 5 straight. BOOM! MIND BLOWN! What in the world just happened?
The team that entered the first 18 games (post-ASB) like a beast unleashed from its cage, now languidly dragged itself like it was getting out of bed and right onto the hardwood. No longer was that vigor and energy conspicuous. Lakers were simply showing up to put their postcards marked "Gone Estivating!" in the mailbox. Okay so maybe last night's event couldn't completely be allotted to the same dumpster the first 4 games of this slide fell into, but the effort could've been much better. It's simply frustrating why this team is not bringing it. Why now? When the season is coming to closure? When we were flexing our strengths? What possibly went wrong with our team? I've come up with some theories, but one seems to nag me the most. So just try to follow my drift as I try to expound and illustrate it before you.
Let's wind it back a bit. There were doubts even before the season began as to how our team would fare without Bynum, who would be out indefinitely. Most duly, all eyes were on south beach Florida. With so much ruckus over how the Heat would be the new champs and dominate the league en route to a 72+ season, everyone seemed to forget about the B2B chippers. Well this served to be quite the motivation for the Lakers and lassoed in all the attention when they ricocheted to an 8-0 start (how sweet was that beat down on Portland at home?). Then there were talks about how dominantly this team was beating the opponents with not only great defense but a juggernaut offense (they sustained the top offensive rank for a while). Now this is where the ups and downs began. Remember how I proposed that Lakers seemed to get annoyed with being on top? Well all that attention wore out its welcome and rejuvenated that "let's-deter-all-attention-away-from-us" spirit. So what do the Lakers do? They seem to defy all that praise by bombing a few easy ones at home and how can we forget that sour Christmas week, when our team let 3 teams (fuck you Lebron and your triple double) come and kick their ass in the Staples Center (I sympathize the people who spent good money for the "Xmas Jingle Massacre" and only got coal as they headed for the exits).
So right when the rumors about the Heat possibly dethroning the Lakers this year began to circulate, the Lakers crushed them with a nifty 7 game win streak (which included mortifying Amare and the hot streaking Knicks and of course the decimation of the Cavs). Unfortunately it was another high tailgated by another low, in which they dropped some important statement games against Dallas and got grilled at home by our green mean nemesis, and certainly don't forget that cardiac arrest we called the "McDyess Tip-in."
Of course, questions were raised again and Lakers answered back by taking down Boston at home and then taking it to MSG to pummel the Knicks, again (those retro uniforms found a nice place in our hearts, a polarity from the disdained Sunday whites). Then right when order seemed to be restored, we crash and burn into ASW with a repulsive 3 game slide, anchored by an ignominious loss to the Cavs (happy Wave?). The Staples Center chimed with anxiety as it redecorated for the ASG. So where us loyal fans were left to enter the ASB in a sour mood, the Lakers were all smiles, especially Kobe; so much he swiped his 4th AS MVP (can't forget that look on The King's face standing closely behind).
However, as we resumed the final tour of the 82 game regular season, concerns cast overhead like a terrible storm setting in. Agonizing questions like "Would we even make the damn top 4 in the playoff seeding?" filled the air. After all, SA had set sail far into the horizon, and Dallas was slipping away.
So what does our team do? Oh just maul teams left and right to go 17-1 (marred only by Miami's escape with some dubious calls at the end). It wasn't that the Lakers decided to make up for their atrocious first half of the season. There was no regret about it. Not with this team. No. This was simply a statement to say, "For all you out there that think we can be defeated this year, these "small" streaks (of 8 and 9 respectively) are for you."
The NBA seemed terrified by this behemoth steam rolling into the playoffs, with poor Tim Duncan looking into the rear- view mirror for a stampeding Cerberus constituted by Bynumite, the Black Swan, and of course, the SMOTY Lamodo Dragon. In a small interview, Greg Anthony and Marc Spears facetiously warned the NBA to watch out and doubted anyone could beat the Lakers anymore, especially since Boston parted ways with their "franchise player" in Kenderp Porkins with a "heavy heart" while Miami was looking puzzled and "Botched" again.
Yeah we were all riding high on the Laker train. Only to crash and fall off the bridge. WAIT WHAT?! Yup it was the classic domino effect. This is what confounds us all. This is where things took a bad turn. Our GPS malfunctioned (as if the UPS malfunction wasn't enough). It was during this period I hypothesized that the Lakers were throwing everything back at the haters and were squandering HCA to prove they really don't need it, a haughty rebellion of sorts. Cockiness? Maybe. Arrogance? Definitely, but that's what this team often exudes. Almost as if to say, "We went 17-1 not to get HCA, but to just show you we can and throw it right out the window. F*** it. This year we take the crown without barely any HCA just to shove it in your faces." We very well know what ensued.
The Lakers' transitory (I say that with high hopes) blunder began by dropping one at home to Denver. Okay, no biggie. Denver was surging without Melo and was locked in and caught us off guard. It happens. Following that loss ironically (and eerily) C.A. "Da Boss" Clark wrote a preview for the Jazz game in which he wrote:
What isn't acceptable is allowing one bad game to become three or four, using a long win streak as a mitigating circumstance for complacency and laziness. That is what the Lakers have been guilty of all season long. That is what the Lakers have been unable to avoid ... until they were able to tack on nine straight wins right after an impressive eight game win streak came to an end.
Ruh roh! Prophesy of Doom! Utah came in and exacted its revenge. So at this point we were a bit confused. And if that wasn't enough, we left our eggs in GS. Sigh. So okay, enough is enough with this 3 game losing streak. So the Lakers would head to Portland and face Crash Wallace and a strong gritty Blazer squad and still take care of things to turn this around, right?
Nah. Lakers licked it, stamped it, and mailed that one in. We figured last night's contest with Kenderp ought to spice things up and of course seeing Durant would get Ron's defensive motor running. Well you can scratch that too. We had a sound offensive game, not sure how much Perkins had to do with it as he was nonexistent. Yet Durant, for what seemed like the first time, shredded Ron's D for a highly efficient performance, while the rest of the Thunder couldn't be stopped. Still some positives we could take from all that was as Dex quoted:
From where I was sitting, it sure didn't look like the Lakers mailed this one in. Against a top-flight opponent in front of a lively home crowd in a game with real consequences for playoff seeding, they competed with an appropriate level of effort. Some of the issues that have plagued them this past week - turnovers, disastrous three-point shooting - were mostly or completely cleaned up.
So here we are, in a similar situation as this team often finds itself in. We have two teams left. What was meant to be the game where we not only defeat the Spurs at home, but also take that 1st seed, which seemed mighty insurmountable of a task just weeks ago, is simply now a game to be played for honor and not giving SA any mental edge. But with all these "Zen-AHH! Mind Tricks" there's really no telling whether the Lakers will even show up for this one. Then we go visit Sac-Town to bid them good-bye only to welcome them in later to an already congested SoCal (enjoy the game Blue!). Go figure.
It's quite blatant; our team creates mountains out of molehills. Perhaps all that talk about how the Lakers only won last year was due to HCA is something this team is out to prove wrong. Why a team that is 17-1, smashing teams along the way to a historically best post-ASG winning percentage would drop 5 in a row when the race for a playoff spot is at its peak, is beyond me. Perhaps our team is enticed by the challenge of being on the road for the majority of the playoffs. Technically, the Lakers' road record in comparison to their home record in the playoffs is very close. Remember, during our post-ASG rampage, we played with more zest and ambition on the road. Being on the road brings this team much closer, since they have to room together and spend quite some time in each other's company. It allows the players to talk things out and fix those mental errors that they're often prone to. Overall it makes this team more focused and determined, and that's the recipe they'll need to go out and win some series on the road. After all, doing that AND winning it all would slam the book shut on any questions surrounding this team's inability to take number 17 sans HCA (of course haters still gon' hate). But more than that it would send us all into a Laker Nirvana and cement the memory for ages to come. It'd be something that SCG would have to remind the next generation of SS&R members years from now (of course in her harsh but sincere manner :D ).
To win it all without the coveted HCA is what this team would treasure. When critics like Charles Barkley and Abbott called Kobe "old" and "unclutch" Kobe went out and lit up teams with vintage-Kobe crossovers, a few reverse dunks, and even serving up some facials(what it do Nocioni?). That same mentality applies to this team. They want to be pushed, pushed to the brink. This team is a supernova; keep condensing it more and more and when it can't be squeezed no more it'll be sure to consume you in its wake. So if winning it all with little to no HCA is what this team is out to prove, then as loyal fans, we go with it and pray that this venture is as auspicious at the end as it has been the previous 2 glorious years. A fitting fairytale ending to send off the greatest coach in sports history. Then again, this is LA. Where drama happens. Where dreams come true.
We can sit here and ruminate all we want, but at the end none of us can comprehend the mind tricks this team plays, even on us. We can't solve the mystery of their actions. The Zen Master is often behind the charade. Yet this time, it's the team that seems to be conniving a magic show that we are compelled to watch. Get your taxes done people, cause the new world begins April 18th. Let's rock Lakers!