Lakers begin tearing at each other, down 2-0 to Dallas. But can they respond?
Posted by Matt Moore
After the Lakers' 93-81 loss to the Mavericks, going down 2-0, Andrew Bynum said that the Lakers have "trust issues." Magic Johnson, a member of the Lakers' front office, the biggest Lakers booster you'll find, is talking about chances being slim and the Lakers pointing fingers. Kobe Bryant was the voice of reason post-game, talking about how the trust issues are on defensive communication, and how everyone is "tripping" when they just need to go win a game.
But there is trouble in the land of the champs. And the fact remains that the Lakers are no longer trying to avoid the edge of the cliffs. They're hearing the gravel bounce off the canyon walls below. This is not something the Lakers are used to, even with a history of malaise and unimpressive performances relative to their capability.
The Lakers have gone to seven with a Rockets team without Yao, six with a Thunder team with no experience, and had long series with the Nuggets and Suns. But 0-2, dropping both games in Staples, headed back to an amped up Dallas arena is a whole other hole to climb out of.
The "trust issues' comment is interesting. Chemistry is a huge part of championship teams. But the Lakers have never seemed to have great chemistry. Kobe trusts Gasol only as far as Gasol's success takes him. Lamar Odom is constantly in need of coddling and his reality show furthers the perception he's not plugged in. Andrew Bynum's injury issues for such a young player puts him aside. Against the Mavericks, the Lakers haven't shown any committment to strategy. They just rolled up on both ends and expected their talent and experience to come through. It didn't, and now the Lakers have to win four out of the next five games. The Lakers notoriously coast through parts of the season, and now it's bitten themin a big way.
But to say that these issues are all just the Lakers coming apart is to ignore how the Mavericks have attacked them. The Mavericks beefed up their roster in the place the Lakers feel safest at, size down low. Brendan Haywood became a backup center. Tyson Chandler became the starter, and the combination meant Dirk Nowitzki could just focus on being the most versatile seven-foot power forward in the league. Against the Lakers, Nowitzki is hitting all of his usual ridiculous shots, attacking the rim, and doing a decent job defending Pau Gasol, who has shrunk from the moment like never before. The Mavericks' use of Shawn Marion was supposed to be an after thought, but Marion's length has allowed him to stick with Bryant as Kobe's athleticism and explosivness degrade with age. Jason Kidd is Derek Fisher's superior, and the Mavericks have shooters upon shooters on the perimeter.
Now the Lakers are really a wounded animal, and have to figure out how to best a team that is playing with more confidence than any opponent they've faced.
What have we seen from this Lakers core in the past as we look ahead to Games 3 and 4 in Dallas? The Lakers usually respond only when they absolutely have to. You could argue that they didn't have to yet, that they can even drop another game in Dallas before executing a backdoor sweep. But that would mean that Kobe Bryant's assertions are correct, that the Lakers don't have to adjust to Dallas, they just have to play better. The Lakers aren't struggling through like the Bulls, who seem like a better team playing down to their oppponent. The Lakers are losing to what looks like a better team in every phase of the game. And unless they come up with a considerable flip switch, they're going to ruin the storybook ending for Phil Jackson and the second Lakers' threepeat. It sounds impossible, but Dallas has set the level the Lakers have to respond to.
So far, they've done nothing but burst under the pressure.