Archives For February 2011

Throngs of media. Players and coaches walking around like every day people. People whose work I read on a daily basis and the guys whose games I analyze essentially standing right next to you. Pretty surreal. But I’m here not to observe, but to jump into the deep end of the pool and see what nuggets can be passed along to all of you. A snapshot of my first day…

  • First of all, Tony Toni Tone lied, it actually does rain in Southern California. What started out as a cold, gusty day has now turned wet. Folks seem to be adjusting fine, if you define fine as hustling through the rain without an umbrella. Luckily, I came prepared.
  • The media sessions with the coaches and players from both the East and West teams provided some insight on what folks think about the current state of the Lakers. The prognosis is that they may be struggling but they still have everyone’s respect.
  • Greg Popovich called them the “best team in the West”.
  • Doc Rivers said that the spotlight still belongs on the Lakers and he tried to deflect any attention that his Celtics may garner and said that he’s “perfectly happy with (the Celtics) flying under the radar”. He also mentioned that the Heat deserve the attention that they’re getting, citing their big three and how bringing them together is something special.
  • Dirk also mentioned that his Mavs are flying a bit under the radar and seemed perfectly content with that. When asked the direct question about how he felt about catching the Spurs and if the West is more exciting with the Lakers “floundering” he replied “Yeah I think they’re stuggling a little bit. But after back to back championships and (playing) until July almost every year I think they’re going to be okay. I think they’re going to step it up after the break. To me, the Lakers are still the team to beat. They’re still the same team. They still have length.”
  • The person most confident about the Lakers though was none other than our own Kobe Bryant. He laughed off a question about whether the Lakers recent play was a downer on his All-Star experience and when asked if this was rock bottom, he said “sure, but that means there’s no where to go but up”. When asked a follow up stating that Jerry West mentioned that rock bottom is normally 8 or 9 consecutive losses, Kobe quipped that “3 losses in a row is like 9 in a row for this team”. When asked if he knew what was wrong with the team he simply said “yes”. He then followed that up by saying that he wouldn’t share what that was and that he sees it as entirely fixable, further saying that he has full confidence that the team will play better.
  • The most insightful part of Kobe’s media session came when he answered a question about if he worries that when this team tries to call on its experience and institutional knowledge that it won’t be there for them. He answered “Of course. That’s where the concern comes from. But that’s the challenge of playing the game. That’s what brings the excitement . It’s not knowing. Even when you’re rolling and you’re playing extremely well there’s still the unknown of saying well, this can slip from us in any game in the series. It cut’s both ways”. He then went on to say that the Lakers are a team that has a better chance than others of pulling it together to make a run and continued to put the focus on what’s most important is how a team is playing together at those crucial times.

It’s tough to gauge if guys like Dirk, Doc, and Coach Pop are just paying lip service to the Lakers as the current champ and putting them up on a pedestal or if they truly believe that L.A. is still the team to beat. It’s probably a bit of both as no one attempts to crown or elevate a new team until the current champion is knocked off. That said, I thought Kobe’s comments speak to what other players and coaches see in the Lakers as the challenge. L.A. still has #24 and the memory of what they’re capable of doing is still quite strong.

We’ll continue to have updates throughout the weekend. Stay tuned for more.

From Janis Carr, OC Register: Jerry West found it difficult to look at the bronze statue that towered over him. The former Lakers star and executive said he would check out his likeness later, when no one was around. Harder still for the former general manager was listening to the accolades and compliments from his friends and family on a night when the Lakers honored the man who helped build them into a global entity with a bigger-than-life statue in front of Staples Center. West true to his humble roots, sat uncomfortably on the stage Thursday as Jerry Buss, Magic Johnson, Pat Riley, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Mitch Kupchak, Bill Russell and Elgin Baylor spoke about his accomplishments as a player, coach and GM. He seemed almost embarrassed when his family joined him on the stage and curtain was lifted on an oversized bronze likeness of the Hall of Fame guard.

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: Even as I type, the great and good of the pro basketball industry are descending on Los Angeles for the combination carnival/trade convention known as All-Star Weekend. On the schedule, among other attractions big and small, are the Rookie-Sophomore Game, the dunk contest, the three-point competition, an actual All-Star Game and presumably numerous parties to which I’ve not been invited. I’m pleased (and perplexed) to report that someone in the league office has decided to issue me a media credential for the whole three-day jamberoo. Frankly, I don’t need to tell you what a bad idea this is. But I’ll be there behind the scenes as this all goes down, I’ll be reporting on it both here and at SBN Los Angeles, and if I’m lucky I’ll get through the experience without exposing either myself or the league to undue embarrassment or financial liability.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: For the NBA exec who guides a squad of two-time defending champions fresh off lost three straight losses punctuated by an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the NBA’s worst team a mere eight days before the trade deadline, even the most special of occasions become work events. So it’s no surprise Mitch Kupchak was stopped by the assembled media in the plaza outside Staples Center following the dedication of Jerry West’s statue Thursday night. Needless to say, the atmosphere locally regarding the Lakers is a little too tense to let him escape with just a few nice words about his former boss. That Kupchak, who would make a spectacular spy given how difficult it is to extract information from him, doesn’t drop any bombshells isn’t surprising. There were, however, a few interesting nuggets to be mined.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Turning around to face Jerry West, Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak couldn’t resist joking that he needed some advice on how to handle the team’s loss Wednesday to the league’s worst team in the Cleveland Cavaliers. But following West’s statue unveiling outside Staples Center, it’s clear Kupchak is taking an even-handed approach to the team’s personnel after the Lakers (38-19) sputtered into the All-Star break losing their last three games after winning the first four games of a seven-game trip. The first question, of course, involves whether the Lakers would make a trade before the Feb. 24 deadline.

From Mark Kennedy, The Associated Press: The playwright behind the Broadway play “Lombardi” is moving from the gridiron to the hard court. Eric Simonson is working on “Magic/Bird,” a new play that will chronicle the lives of basketball Hall of Famers Earvin “Magic” Johnson andLarry Bird Producers Fran Kirmser and Tony Ponturo were encouraged by the response to “Lombardi” — the story of legendaryGreen Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi now on Broadway — to push ahead with a second sports-themed play. “We’ve been fired on by the experience to keep on going and feel that it can be a really thriving series,” Kirmser said Thursday in a phone interview.

A Tribute To The Logo

Darius Soriano —  February 17, 2011

Make no doubt about it, the Lakers are playing poorly right now. No more evidence is needed than the loss to Cleveland last night. And so, if being 100% honest, I need a distraction from the action that’s been happening on the court. I need a bit of a getaway.

So, I must say that I’m very happy to have this day to reflect on the career of Jerry West as the Lakers unveil a statue in his honor to sit outside the Staples Center for all to see.

Jerry West may not be the best Laker player ever (I’d go with Magic, personally) but he can easily be considered the most accomplished in terms of the contributions he made to the organization. He may have only won a single championship as a player – suffering through countless heartaches in Finals losses in his storied playing career – but he contributed to countless others as GM and as mentor to Mitch Kupchak (who currently holds that title).

You see, West helped build Showtime, kept the team competitive through Magic’s retirement, and then built the next Lakers’ dynasty by recruiting Shaq and trading for the rights to Kobe Bryant. He then gave Kupchak the keys and while this team suffered through some hard times at the beginning of Mitch’s tenure this group is now back on top as champions of the NBA. I don’t think this organization would have reached the heights that is has without the influence of Mr. Clutch.

And while there’s likely no bigger honor than being the inspiration for the logo that the league uses, West will always be a Laker. And thus the statue dedicated in his honor that will sit outside the team’s home arena is extremely meaningful to the man even though he’ll likely deflect credit for all that he accomplished in his career with the team.

But I’ll do no such deflecting. Instead, I give the man all the praise I can muster for all that he’s done to make the Lakers organization what it is today. He is, simply, a symbol for the franchise and a man who will never be forgotten – especially now that his likeness will be present for all to see.

Congrats, Mr. West you certainly deserve it. I leave you with a short reflection on his career. Enjoy.

From Tom Withers, The Lakers hit the All-Star break broken. Looking nothing like two-time defending NBA champions, they dropped their third straight game, a stunning 104-99 loss Wednesday night to the Cleveland Cavaliers – the league’s worst team, which avenged a 55-point embarrassment against Los Angeles last month. Ramon Sessions came off the bench and scored a season-high 32 points for the Cavs, who were beaten 112-57 by the Lakers on Jan. 11. That loss was No. 11 in a league-record streak that eventually reached 26 before Cleveland ended it last week with an overtime win against L.A.’s less-heralded squad, the Clippers. Pau Gasol had 30 points and 20 rebounds for the Lakers.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: With their heads slumped, the Lakers walked off the court of Quicken Loans Arena with no reasons to stop staring at the ground. The Lakers with their 104-99 loss Wednesday to the Cleveland Cavaliers concluded a seven-game trip at 4-3, marked their third consecutive defeat and erased any positive feelings coming out of their 4-0 start, including a signature victory over the Boston Celtics. The Lakers enter the All-Star break with plenty of things to correct, but with no practice time to do it. And those believing a few days off could help the team rest are forgetting that there are plenty of the festivities surrounding All-Star weekend in Los Angeles. It’s debatable that the Lakers’ loss to Cleveland would have more significant long-term implications than their much-needed victory against Boston, but that’s not how the Lakers should think right now.

From Mark Whicker, OC Register: The end of the Lakers’ trip revealed a team that appears to be at the end of the line. With Ramon Sessions taking the ball anywhere he wanted on the way to 32 points Wednesday night, Cleveland improved its NBA-worst record to 10-46 with a 104-99 upset of a Lakers team that had pounded the Cavaliers by 55 on Jan. 12. That’s three consecutive losses on a seven-game trip that began with four consecutive victories. In this one the Lakers wasted Pau Gasol’s first-ever 30-point, 20-rebound game and watched a scrambling last-minute comeback fall short.

From John Krolik, Pro Basketball Talk: It’s safe to say that the All-Star Break couldn’t be coming at a better time for the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers lost the last three games of their recent seven-game road trip, and their struggles culminated in a shocking loss to the woeful Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night. The 10-46 Cavaliers were coming off a 15-point home loss to the Washington Wizards, and had not won a game in regulation since November 27th, 2010, but looked like the superior team against the defending champions. The Lakers looked tired, disinterested, and frustrated throughout the game. Kobe Bryant picked up an early technical in the first quarter, and looked completely out of sorts all night; he shot 8-24 from the field, did not draw a single foul, turned the ball over seven times, and sealed his team’s fate by forcing quick threes late in the game.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: After four strong wins to start their seven-game trip, a setback against a talented and increasingly desperate Orlando Magic team Sunday afternoon was fairly easy to swallow. Losing by 20 the next evening in Charlotte, the Lakers’ fourth game in five days and sixth in a long trip, with a flu-ridden Kobe Bryant in a place they (for reasons scientists will spend the next three decades trying to determine) historically struggle was undeniably ugly, but at least able to be explained away. This despite a 122-character, fully tweetable postgame media meeting in which Phil Jackson said he was “embarrassed” by the team’s performance.  But in a season already marred with more losses against sub-.500 teams than in all of 2009-10, with only two wins in eight tries against the NBA’s top five squads, nothing papers over Wednesday’s 104-99 loss to a Cavaliers squad that entering the game had dropped 37 of its previous 39 games, including a 55-point loss to the Lakers at Staples Center. Even the most purple and gold of Pollyannas probably were throwing shoes through their flatscreens.

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: Putting tonight’s loss in perspective requires more words than have been invented in the English language. If, rather than playing a game of basketball tonight, the Lakers had instead broken into the homes of every one of their fans and taken a huge dump on our living room floors, we’d all have had a more enjoyable evening. If there were a UN Tribunal for Crimes Against Basketball, nearly every person on the Lakers payroll would be locked up and awaiting trial in The Hague. It’s tempting to say the season has hit rock bottom, but you know, I’m done underestimating the ability of this team to plumb new depths of embarrassment. We’re going to hear about this loss all season long, and possibly further. As well we should. If the Celtics or Heat had faceplanted this egregiously, we’d never stop reminding their fans of it, so there’s no real option here other than to endure all the mockery hurled our way. Nothing but another championship will erase this stain.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Advocating for mental health has produced all kinds of trickle effects for Ron Artest.His visit last fall to Eastmont Intermediate School to speak about mental health issues led to him being awarded the keys to the city of Las Vegas in recognition of his charitable efforts and public service announcement. His decision to raffle off his championship ring raised over $600,000 for charities. And his willingness to speak out on the issue earns him an appearance Thursday in Washington, where he will be highlighting, on behalf of Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (D-Norwalk), the merits of the proposed Mental Health in Schools Act, which would provide $200 million in funding. The timing of Artest’s appearance isn’t exactly perfect, considering the Lakers’ 104-99 loss Wednesday to the league’s worst team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, a game in which he went zero for one from the field in only 17 minutes of play. It also doesn’t jibe well with the ongoing concern that Artest is stretching himself too thin and has mixed priorities, the latest being his tweet half an hour after the game to promote his new mixtape. But in fairness, the Washington appearance was set up a while ago and it falls on All-Star weekend.

From Steve Aschburner, The day after the NBA got a new record-holder for 3-point field goals — the perpetually in motion Ray Allen of the Boston Celtics — the league’s all-time leader in 2-point baskets was on the move too. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — whose 15,836 2-point field goals represent 99.99 percent of his lifetime NBA regular-season work (he was 1-for 18 from outside the arc that arrived for his final 10 seasons) — had spent several days in New York and New Jersey screening his film “On The Shoulders of Giants,” a documentary about the Harlem Renaissance Big Five, basketball’s first all-black team. Abdul-Jabbar was the film’s executive producer, after writing the 2007 book about the Rens that served as its launching pad.

Lastly, check out Darius on the Ed The Sports Fan Unsportsmanlike Conduct Online Radio Show. Darius talks all star weekend, gives his thoughts on the 3-point contest and talks, of course, about the Lakers and their current struggles. Darius’ segment begins around the 47:30 mark.

Before the game, I wrote the following in reference to the Cavs:

They’re last in both offensive and defensive efficiency, have struggled through countless injuries, suffered a record breaking 26 game losing streak, and have even inspired a website dedicated to answering whether they won last night. All around bad times for the Cavs…My sympathies to Coach Scott, the Cleveland fans, and the players that are undoubtedly trying but just not good enough to compete with most teams for a full 48 minutes each night.

And then this about tonight’s game:

The Cavs are the worst team in the league and it’s not close. But they will play hard and the fact that the Lakers humilated them in their last match up will surely be on the minds of the home team. If the Lakers think they’re just going walk in and the Cavs forfeit, they’ll be mistaken.

Simply put, the Cavs may be having a miserable year, but they had every intention of having the Lakers join them in their misery. And tonight they did just that by handing them a 104-99 loss, their 3rd straight to end the 7 game road trip.  As it stands, we have a new leader in the clubhouse when it comes to the worst loss of the year.

I’m going to keep this short and bitter.

The Lakers got outworked by a team hell bent on revenge. The Cavs played hard, they played smart, and they took advantage of every opening the Lakers gave them. And since the Lakers were in such a giving mood and so generous in playing a poor game by forcing passes, not rotating well on defense, and not hustling the Cavs hung around, then built a lead, and then held on for the win. When a team doesn’t play smart and doesn’t do the little things, they often lose. Even to bad teams. The Lakers learned that first hand tonight and will now have to think about this loss through the All-Star break and into early next week. Hopefully it sinks in that playing this way isn’t nearly enough to be good team.

The only bright spots in the entire game came on the offensive side of the ball.  Pau Gasol did his part on O by pouring in 30 points on 15 shots (and making all 14 of his FT’s), grabbing 20 rebounds (10 offensive), and dishing 3 assists. When he got the ball in position to score he attacked and made the most of his limited opportunities. Fisher deserves praise too. He hit 8 of his 12 shots from the field and paired with Pau in the 2nd half to keep the Lakers within striking distance. And the last Laker to have a good game on O was Shannon Brown. Like Fisher, he shot the ball well (7-14, 15 points) and even after taking a nasty spill when absorbing a hard foul, he bounced back, made his FT’s and played hard the rest of the way. All three of these guys deserve credit for playing hard and, for the most part, smart on offense the entire night.

But in the end, even a 30-20 line from Gasol, one of Fisher’s best shooting nights, and Shannon having a good road game wasn’t enough. Not with Kobe jacking up jumpers (8-24 FG’s, 0 FTA’s) on the wing and committing a turnover nearly every time he drove the ball (7 TO’s on the night). Or Bynum needing 12 shots (making 2) to score his 6 points while only grabbing 6 rebounds on top of that. Or Odom not having his typical impact on the glass or in scoring the ball (though he did dish 6 assists). And certainly not with Ron apparently so out of this game mentally that Phil decided to only play him 18 minutes on the night, including only 5 in the 2nd half (and none in the 4th).

Overall, just a terrible game from this team. And really, I’m just angry and disappointed about it. It doesn’t shake my long term belief that this team can contend. Nor does it make me reconsider the constitution of the this group. But losses like this do sting. And instead of going into this break with a bit of a good feeling and completing the road trip with a victory, we’re stuck with this game on our minds and what can only be thought of as a wasted road trip (even with the W in Boston). Hopefully, this loss resonates some and we see a re-commited group next week.

Records: Lakers 38-18 (3rd in West), Cavaliers 9-46 (last in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.8 (2nd in NBA), Cavaliers 101.1 (last in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.2 (11th in NBA), Cavaliers 112.8 (last in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Cavaliers: Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, Christian Eyenga, Antawn Jamison, JJ Hickson
Injuries: Lakers: Matt Barnes & Theo Ratliff (out); Cavaliers: Leon Powe & Anderson Varejao (out), Daniel Gibson (doubtful)

The Lakers Coming in: Losers of two in a row, the Lakers momentum has ground to a halt. What started out as a very promising road trip has now gone a bit sour with the lackluster play in Orlando and the horrid affair in Charlotte. And while I think some good old fashioned rest can help this team (the All-Star break can’t get here soon enough), I think we should also acknowledge that the team is still up and down in too many areas and struggles to put together complete performances on both sides of the ball consistently. On too many nights solid defense isn’t supported by cohesive offense and vice versa.

The players understand this too. None would claim this team is close to where it needs to and they’d quickly admit that much work needs to be done. Hopefully the time off between tomorrow and Tuesday will recharge the players’ batteries and the eventual return of Barnes (hoping to start practicing on Monday) will help settle the rotation back again.

The Cavaliers Coming in: Nine wins in fifty-five tries pretty much speaks to the state of this franchise. They’re last in both offensive and defensive efficiency, have struggled through countless injuries, suffered a record breaking 26 game losing streak, and have even inspired a website dedicated to answering whether they won last night. All around bad times for the Cavs.

The did win a game recently, however. Downing the Clips in overtime, the Cavs broke their streak of losses this past Friday. Yeah! Then on Sunday they gave the Wizards their lone road win of the season. Ugh. Such is this season for the Cavs. My sympathies to Coach Scott, the Cleveland fans, and the players that are undoubtedly trying but just not good enough to compete with most teams for a full 48 minutes each night.

Cavaliers Blogs: Despite their losing ways, John Krolik continues to provide sharp analysis on this team over at Cavs The Blog.

Keys to game: Let’s keep this simple: the Lakers just need to show up and care. The Cavs are the worst team in the league and it’s not close. But they will play hard and the fact that the Lakers humilated them in their last match up will surely be on the minds of the home team. If the Lakers think they’re just going walk in and the Cavs forfeit, they’ll be mistaken. The Lakers need to play hard and execute their sets on both sides.

On offense that means going inside consistently. Jamison and Hickson are no match for Gasol and Bynum and the Lakers need to exploit these match ups all game. Kobe can get in the fun too by attacking Anthony Parker in isolations at the elbow. As for the other Lakers, just pass to these guys, cut hard, screen hard, and then flow into open space to capitalize on over compensations by a defense that is outmanned.

Defensively, the return of Mo Williams means the Cavs have their offensive catalyst back. The Lakers will be tested with Williams/Hickson pick and rolls and Williams/Jamison pick and pops. They’ll also see plenty of Williams in isolation at the top of the key both in the half court and when he pushes the ball in transition. Defending the paint will be important against his drives and on big man dives but the Lakers also can’t get lazy in rotating back to the perimeter when Williams, Jamison, and Parker spot up around the arc. When given time these guys can knock down the open jumper. Rotate and close out hard and funel offensive players to Bynum and Gasol.

Tonight, there are no excuses. I can see this game being close early but every single team in the past 50 some odd days that’s found themselves in a close game with the Cavs has found a way to turn up their intensity and give the Cavs an L (save the Clippers on Friday). I fully expect the Lakers to do the same. Rarely do I say that a win should be a given but tonight is one of those nights. Despite a 4-0 start to this trip, this roadie will be a complete failure if this team doesn’t leave Cleveland with a W. Just go get it and then take a vacation until next Monday when practice resumes.

Where you can watch: 4:30pm start time out West on KCAL. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710am.

H/T to Got Em Coach for the SLAM Cover

H/T to Got Em Coach for the SLAM Cover

From Mark Whicker, OC Register: After the blowout at Charlotte, Andrew Bynum pointed out that the Lakers were “angry, but not for the right reasons. We’re angry at each other.” Kobe Bryant said he would probably say something to his teammates at their next practice and, when asked what tone he would use, said, “What do you think?” Phil Jackson referred to Pau Gasol as “weak and sickly” after a 5-for-14 shooting performance, in the Lakers’ worst-ever loss to the Bobcats. Yes, it was a pretty dire moment there for the Purple and Cold, way back in … 2010. There are a multitude of reasons to beat up this year’s Lakers after Monday’s 20-point tumble own the Charlotte steps. The Lakers spread red carpets for the Bobcats to strut to the basket, their bench players were more like stunt doubles than agents of change and Bryant seemed very much like a 33-year-old playing his fourth game in five days.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: No longer will Jerry West’s image be immortalized only in the NBA logo. At 6 p.m. Thursday outside Staples Center, it will also show up in the form of a statue. This will be the third Lakers statue outside Staples Center, joining those of Magic Johnson and Chick Hearn. There are also statues depicting hockey player Wayne Gretzky and boxer Oscar De La Hoya. Johnson’s statue was dedicated during the NBA All-Star game in Los Angeles in 2004, while Hearn’s statue was unveiled last season The ceremony, which begins at 5 p.m, will be open to the  public and will feature speeches from West, members of his family and  teammates, colleagues and friends highlighting a storied career with the Lakers. During his playing career with the Lakers from 1960-1974, West led the team to an NBA championship in 1972, was a 14-time All-Star, a 10-time All-NBA selection and won the 1969 Finals MVP award, though the Lakers lost that series to the Boston Celtics.

From C. A. Clark, Silver Screen and Roll: Four games in five nights.  It gets you almost every time.  Basketball is a tough game, and participating in a professional basketball contest four times in 120 hours is just tough sledding.  It leads to fatigue, which in turn leads to sloppiness, poor effort, and a tendency to give up.  And when you are hitting double digits in terms of the number of years you’ve been doing this job, those challenges keep getting tougher. I mean, just think about it.  All the game planning. All the team meetings.  All the shoot arounds. All the layup lines. All that getting up from your fancy high chair.  All those piercing high-pitched whistles.  All the timeouts.  All the post game questions.  It’s exhausting just to think about.  And its enough to make you want to just skip out on the last bit of your duties at the end of a rough night.

From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: And the rich get richer… Time Warner Cable — which already provides service to much of the Los Angeles area — will launch a two new regional sports cable channels in the Los Angeles marketplace in 2012 with the Lakers as part of the package, the team and company announced jointly Monday. The Lakers will be the cornerstones of those stations for 20 years starting with the 2012-13 season. While the financial details are not yet public, for the Lakers to jump ship from Fox Sports where they have been for two decades you know this has to be very, very lucrative for the team. This will also mean the end of Lakers road games broadcast on KCAL 9 in the city.

Needing Some Rest

Darius Soriano —  February 15, 2011

Before the season it was easy to look at this particular part of the schedule as one that would really test the Lakers. The Grammy road trip is always a grueling one, but the backloaded nature of this trip has been especially taxing when you consider who has been on the docket (anytime the C’s appear on the schedule we should be prepared for a fair amount of mental and physical energy being expended, throw in Orlando and those pesky Bobcats and you get the picture). Beyond this trip though, the sheer volume of basketball that the team has played from the start of the new year up until the All-Star break may also be catching up to the team.

Since the calendar turned to 2011, the Lakers have played 23 games in 45 days (essentially a game every other day) and have only had more than one day off in between games 3 times. For any team, that’s a heavy load but for a team whose core has a lot of miles on its legs this is more problematic. I don’t think you’ll find too many better conditioned athletes at their positions and age than Fisher, Kobe, and Gasol (plus Odom’s off-season work with Team USA has him in great shape), but all of these guys seem a bit worn down to me. Once you add a clearly not yet in peak shape Bynum and that’s 5 of the Lakers 8 main rotation players that don’t look in peak form from a conditioning standpoint. (Missing Barnes hurts too, but that’s a topic for another day.)

The examples of this are prevalent, too. When watching the past few games, too often I’ve seen players jogging back on defense after turnovers or when a speedy guard turns on the jets to try and beat the Lakers up court. When a long rebound bounces out the Lakers have seemed a step slow to the ball (even more so than usual). Call it age if you’d like, but I can’t help but think the recent run of heavy action has started to take its toll on the team.

Obviously, I wouldn’t have made this point just 4 days ago when the Lakers were coming off back to back wins over the Knicks and Celtics and looking as strong as they have all season. So I’m sure this seems all too convenient an excuse after two straight losses. But if you watched the Magic game and the debacle that was last night’s game vs. the Bobcats, it’s safe to say that this team has somewhat hit a wall both physically and mentally.

On the flip side, I know it’s easy to say that this team just stopped caring after the C’s and Knicks game. That reasoning fits nicely into the season long narrative that this team is complacent and apathetic towards the regular season and is just waiting for the playoffs to really start trying. For me though, that’s a bit too easy an explanation. This team knows what it takes to win and understands that forming good habits in order to have positive experience to pull on is a goal and part of the process that they preach about when discussing the journey of a season. So seeing them struggle to find that resolve that they’ve shown in the past has me thinking it’s not just a matter of a “ho-hum, just another regular season game” mindset from the players. Anyone that read Odom’s quotes after the game knows this team still takes these games seriously and the losses personally.

So, you’ll find no happier fan than me when the Lakers are finally done with this road trip and go into the all-star break. Even though Kobe and Pau will play in the game and Los Angeles is the host city, the fact that the team won’t have to play any meaningful games and get to relax off the court (in whatever way they choose) will be a good getaway. I’ve always been a firm believer in the old saying that “fatigue makes cowards of us all.” And while you’ll never hear me call these guys cowards, it’s not a stretch to say that in these last few games when the going got tough the Lakers didn’t have a lot in reserve to push back very hard. So, I’m really looking forward to this break for the team. I have a feeling they’ll need it in preparation for the final push towards the playoffs.