I’m a sucker for old quotes from great coaches.
One of my favorites is the Vince Lombardi line, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all”. The quote is so simple, yet so true. In professional football, this translates to lack of tackling and blocking – or the fundamental acts that help you win at that game. Being that football is such a physical sport, the fact that players stop doing these things when fatigued can come off as cowardice. Pretty straight forward stuff.
In basketball, it’s different however. In basketball fatigue shows up in the form of mental errors, flat-footed defense, jump shots that come up woefully short, the ball being taken right out of a player’s hands, lack of desire to run back on D or challenge shots at the rim, and several other acts that mirror laziness or lack of desire to play hard. This isn’t exactly cowardice, but it’s a parallel path.
Against the Blazers, that above paragraph aptly describes the Lakers. It led to another loss, this time by the count of 93-86 that was no where close to describing how close this game wasn’t. Portland outworked the Lakers at every turn, running them into the ground on fast breaks and back cutting them to death in the half court. When a team with only one capable big man (who also happens to thrive as a jump shooter) scores 44 points in the paint (while limiting the Lakers to only 36), it pretty much sums up the game. The Blazers controlled the basket area, the Lakers struggled to keep up, and that was that. Digging into the gory details isn’t necessary; if you’ve seen the previous three losses you have an idea about what happened in this game.
And really, I don’t want to say I told you so, but this is from my post the other day on confidence vs. concern: “Five games in seven nights isn’t something to just gloss over and with (Portland on Friday) then (the Thunder on) Sunday making that a 7 game slate in 11 days, I’m not sure we won’t see more off-kilter play that frustrates us all.” Off-kilter is probably too kind considering the effort that we saw but, again, fatigue makes cowards of us all. The Lakers were into this game early but couldn’t keep up with the Blazers running and cutting right by them. I’d say it was upsetting (and believe me, I was frustrated), but it was also somewhat predictable. Sad to say that we may see more of this on Sunday.
(As an aside, I know that playing the fatigue card can come off as some gigantic excuse. I admit that the Lakers’ execution has been sloppy of late and that hasn’t been addressed at all in this post. I could write 800 words – double that really – on the things the Lakers are and aren’t doing from an X’s and O’s standpoint. But what I saw last night was a tired team that turned into a frustrated team. The only players that seemed to fight through their fatigue for more than short stretches were Odom and Barnes. Even Kobe’s shot making came in brief flurries at the end of the 2nd quarter and for a brief stint in the 3rd quarter. The bench made a push in the late third, but beyond that I saw a winded team that couldn’t sustain energy.)
However, there are consequences to this. Take a look at the league standings and a harsh reality is upon us. The Lakers have the same record as Boston and Miami. Closer to home, the Lakers only have a one game lead on Dallas and only a two game cushion on Sunday’s opponent from OKC. The Lakers’ strong push that afforded them a gap in the standings is now gone and they’ll need to close the season with some wins in order to ensure that they hold onto the West’s 2nd seed, say nothing of league wide standings that influence the deepest rounds of the playoffs. By the time the playoffs start a week from today, the Lakers could be the 4th seed in the West. This is the worst case scenario, but it’s a scenario that needs to be considered.
At this point, the Lakers – as I’ve been saying for a few days now – need rest and a reset to their minds and bodies. I’ve no doubts that their long win streak was mentally and physically taxing and the play we’ve seen of late was the inevitable crash back. I would have hoped that this team could have better held it together and not fallen as far as they have but, then again, go read the first paragraph of this post again.
In the end, I’m both more and less concerned than I was the day before. Because even though I don’t think this poor play will last through the playoffs, I’m not sure it will be cleaned up in time that it won’t negatively affect the Lakers’ seeding. Remember, last year this team was the #1 seed and their late season decline cost them nothing but HCA in the Finals against a team that didn’t make it that far (Orlando). This year, this team is still fighting for seeding in their own conference and are close to falling behind every potential team that could be an opponent should they advance to the championship round. This is not ideal and does concern me. All that said, the team that won 17 of 18 was just here a week ago. They’re too fresh in my memory for me to think that they can’t again be that team a week from now. And if that team shows up, is there really a reason to be concerned?
So, we wait. We wait for the playoffs to start and wait for tomorrow to see if the Lakers can muster the energy and desire to play well enough to stay in a game. As Phil Jackson said after last night’s game “These guys just don’t want to play hard right now”, but time is running out and the urgency to play better is here. Right now. Their coach knows it and deep down the players do too. Let’s hope we see it starting tomorrow.