Many fans don’t want to hear about last year when referencing this year’s Lakers team.
Last year was different.
Last year the Lakers had big, signature wins in the regular season.
Last year Kobe was healthy and Pau was stepping up.
Last year the bench was better and Ariza was around.
And to a certain extent, I agree with these sentiments – every season is a new test. And even though this team played well enough to earn the #1 seed in the West and win the first two games of this series, the Lakers have not been the team that many hoped they would be. What, with inconsistency and flat play being all to frequent themes of this 2010 campaign. That said, it’s easy to forget that despite every year being different, history tends to repeat itself; history shows us trends over time. So, whether we’re talking the Lakers or talking about some other team the lessons of the past can be helpful in understanding where this team stands right now.
And with that in mind, I scoured the FB&G’s archives. What I found was something that was written almost one year ago after the Lakers got blasted on the road in game 4 of their second round series against Houston:
1) In the first game of the 1985 NBA Finals (the first time it was called that, by the way), the Lakers got absolutely routed by Boston Celtics. Devastatingly crushed. Dominated in every aspect of the game. They lost 148-114, and the media dubbed it the Memorial Day Massacre. The Lakers won the series in six games.
2) 1972 NBA Finals, Lakers vs. Knicks game one. From The Show: “Lucas scored 26 pts. an, Bradley hit 11-12 shots from the field as New York shot 53% from the floor. They used a nearly perfect first half to jump to a good lead and won much too easily, 114-92…. At he beginning of the first half the Forum crowd began filing out dejectedly. It looked like another LA fold in the Finals.” The Lakers beat the Knicks in five.
3) Game two of the 2000 Western Conference Finals, the Trailblazer ripped the Lakers, 106-77. The Lakers came back to win that series in a dramatic seventh game and go on the three-peat.
4) Last season the Boston Celtics were taken seven games by a more athletic but far less talented Atlanta Hawks team, then were taken seven games again by LeBron James and what there was of a surrounding cast last season. We all remember how that turned out. But after four games against the Cavs last year, Celtics message boards and fan reactions looked a lot like the Lakers this year.
There are simple lessons here. Don’t say this Lakers team cannot turn it around and win the NBA title. Don’t tell me Magic and the great Showtime teams never had letdowns, because they had them (regular season and playoffs). Don’t tell me game four against the Rockets is proof of ultimate doom. It is not. (Thanks to Gatinho for helping me compile this list.)
The title of that post was “It’s not the end of the world, but it’s not good” and I can’t think of a better way to describe what is going on with the Lakers right now. For many fans, the sky may not have fallen but it’s awfully close to our heads right now.
So now that the Lakers are at this point, the next question is what is there for them to lean on? Despite things looking down right now, there are some positives:
1). This series is now a best of three, but two of those games are in Los Angeles at the Staples Center. The Lakers fought as hard as they could for home court advantage in the western playoffs and it’s times like these that exemplify why they wanted it so badly. It’s not so much that the Thunder are a worse team on the road (their road/home splits show great consistency - though their role players played much worse in games 1 & 2), but it’s that the Lakers role players are better at home. For example, Shannon Brown scores more points, shoots better from the field (including 36% from three vs 29% on the road), doubles his assists per game, and fouls less. Farmar also plays a bit better at home than on the road (all his stats are slightly up, except his shooting %’s which actually dip some at home). These are two players that we rely upon to help this team win games. Yes they’ve been inconsistent this season and that (along with injuries) has led to a decrease in our overall bench productivity. But if the Lakers are to sustain solid play over the course of an entire game, these two players will need to do more. And if I was to bet where they’d be able to do it, I’d put my money on the Staples Center.
2). Speaking of our bench, another positive was Lamar Odom’s play in the second half. I’ve been on LO a lot in this series as he’s had little impact in the first 14 quarters of this series. But in the second half of game 4 he woke up. He rebounded better on defense, pushed the ball on offense, and then attacked the rim when in the half court. This is the player that the Lakers need as an X-factor and impact player. I know, I know – depending on Lamar isn’t quite like relying on the tax man or the grim reaper, but Lamar has been a player that has typically played better in the playoffs than the regular season over the course of his career. Whether in Miami or in LA, Odom has usually found a way to put together consistent performances in the second season. His reappearance on Saturday, I think, bodes well for the Lakers in these remaining games.
3). Some of the little things are getting better. Though the Lakers shot poorly from deep in game 4, Derek Fisher did not. In fact, in Fisher’s last two games he’s 9-15 from the field including 7-11 from three point country. And when looking at game 4, the Lakers were able to get the ball into the post much more consistently. Kobe also shot better in game 4, though with not as many attempts (5-10 from the field). My point in all of this? We’re starting to see some of offensive factors that contribute to winning show up in these games, they just haven’t all clicked on the same night. Aren’t the Lakers due for one of those nights where Kobe plays well, the ball is still able to go inside, Odom steps up, and at least one shooter makes some shots? Am I reaching here? The Lakers are a better team than what they’ve shown in the last two games (especially in game 4) and I see a game coming where it comes together for them. Sure, there’s a lot of hope here, but based off history (and the quality of players we’re talking about) I don’t think I’m off base.
4). The Lakers’ defense, though fouling too often, is still playing well. The Thunder connect rate on field goals is still hovering around 40% and even though Durant is getting his points, he’s working extremely hard for them. If the Lakers can start and finish defensive possessions better (through executing their transition defense and protecting their defensive glass more effectively), there’s a good chance the Lakers will be able to take and sustain a lead. Obviously it’s easier than just saying it (not to mention it sounds funny reading that they need to start and end possessions better – what’s left?) but I mention it because these are small things that are having a major impact on the results of the games. These are things that can be improved upon as the Lakers did them relatively well early in the series. I think they’ll get back to them in the games that are left.
Winning Tuesday’s game will not be easy. The Lakers can’t expect the Thunder to come out, roll over, and hand them the win. The Lakers will need to execute the little things and can’t rely on the Thunder to not play well. However, if there is a team that knows what needs to be done to still win this series wouldn’t it be the one led by Phil Jackson and captained by Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher? Guys with 20 championships between them as players and coach? History has proven that these guys know how to get it done. But with every new season, new challenges appear, and the need to prove it again arises. I think the Lakers have it in them. Tuesday is when we all get to see if I’m right.