May 12, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers power forward Pau Gasol (16) shakes hands with Denver Nuggets head coach George Karl after game seven of the Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the Staples Center. Lakers won 96-87. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
Sometimes, a fresh start is all you need. We've all been there at one time or another. Whether it's the relationship that just doesn't work and needs to be ended so that a fresh one can bring you all the expected joys, or a computer that is running unbearably slow that needs to have its cache cleared, or the video game that you keep screwing up with mistakes, there are times in everybody's life when a reset button, figurative or literal, is needed. You press the button and the screen goes black, the relationship ends, the mistakes are gone, and when the system reboots, you have a chance to do it all over again.
In advancing to the 2nd round of the Western Conference playoffs, the Lakers have a chance to do just that. They have a chance to erase all the idiocy and stupidity of a 1st round match-up they seemed to have full control of before nearly letting it slip away. They have a chance to re-write all the negative headlines about effort and heart and consistency and turn them into storylines about experience and capability and the heart of a champion. All they have to do is hit the reset button and start this process all over. And then pray that, against all odds, the issues that plagued them in the last round do not return.
Do the Lakers have it in them? Sure they do. With the return of Metta World Peace, they no longer need minutes from a starter who looked woefully unprepared for the stresses of playoff basketball. If Matt Barnes continues to struggle (though his is one of the only motors on the Lakers that never stops running), the Lakers will no longer feel the punishment, because MWP will play 40 minutes a game. Can Steve Blake build on his excellent game 7 performance, and be an outlet valve for the offense to ensure things don't get too clogged? Probably not, but it's not outside the realm of possibility that either him or Sessions finds and keeps their outside shot at a high enough rate to make the Thunder think twice about leaving them wide open.
Kobe Bryant can play better than he did against Denver. Bryant consistently "brought it" against the Nuggets, but he struggled with his shot a bit, and certainly has the ability to play strong against a Thunder team whose best lineup has somebody undersized handling defensive duties against the Mamba. Can Pau Gasol play as if somebody challenged his manhood all the time? We've seen it from him before. Whenever Pau has been criticized the most, he's been at his best. I have no idea why that man's competitive nature needs so much fuel, but push him enough and he will push back with force far greater than you think him capable. This is all entirely plausible. Can Drew force himself to play with the necessary energy and be a dominant force on at least one side of the court, if not both?
Those are the important questions.
Hitting the reset button doesn't always work. Sometimes, you break up with one person and end up with another, only to realize you still aren't happy because you are the problem. Sometimes, you reboot the computer and still have issues because your files have been corrupted. Sometimes, the reason you aren't doing that well playing a video game is because you aren't that good. The reset button only works if the problem lies in a specific element of the process failing in a unique and unusual way. The reset button can't fix a core that is somehow flawed. And if the Los Angeles Lakers have a flawed core, you can bet money that Andrew Bynum will be the symptom, if not the overall problem.
Maybe the Laker players surrounding Kobe just aren't good enough. Maybe they are too tired. Maybe all the symptoms (Gasol playing passively, Bynum playing apathetically) are as indicative of team chemistry and morale problems as they seem to be. Or maybe, having gotten the bullshit out of their system, the Lakers are now ready to go to work on a more permanent basis. Maybe the Lakers are hearing all this talk about how they're the underdogs and laughing at the very concept. Maybe they will be pissed off that, after years of underestimating their competition, their competition is finally underestimating them.
The reset button has already been hit. Round 2 starts the same way that Round 1 does, with a 0-0 record in relevant contests. You don't win any trophies based on overall winning percentage. There is only the opponent in front of you, and whether you can be better than that opponent the majority of the time. If the Lakers are, in fact, a better team than the one that showed up in Round 1, they will have ample opportunity to show it. If they aren't, we won't have to deal with the issues for much longer, because the Thunder will destroy the flawed model quickly and efficiently, and then we can all move on to worrying about how we can replace the defective model.
The cache is clear. The slate is blank. History is written by the victors, and so the history of this series does not yet exist. Maybe all the 2012 Lakers needed was a second chance. Or maybe that chance will be a waste of time. We'll start to find out tonight.