No hunger, No Defense, No Bynum: Bad Lakers Mix
There was no Ho-Ho-Hoing about this one.
The Lakers not only looked like Grinches in their new lime green sneakers, they played that way. Miami’s Big Three didn’t just beat Phil Jackson’s guys, they hammered them, 96-80, in a Christmas Day mismatch that was never really close.
So what exactly is wrong with the two-time defending champs? Well, here are just a few things for starters:
1. They don’t look hungry. When you win two NBA titles in a row, sometimes, without realizing it, you lose your sense of urgency. That’s what seems to be going on with the Lakers. This first meeting between LeBron James and Co. and Kobe and his gang was so hyped, there was no reason not to come out with some intensity. But the star-filled crowd seemed a lot more excited than the home team. Kobe was doubled from the start, and Pau Gasol suddenly reverted to the Pau we saw two years ago against the Celtics in the Finals. He was soft and lethargic. Together, Kobe and Gasol went 0-for-11 in the first quarter, and they never really did recover.
2. Only one team played tough, belly-to-belly defense, and it wasn’t the gentlemen in the green shoes. The Heat put on a defensive clinic, contesting every shot and mucking up the inside, where the taller, longer Lakers were supposed to have such a big advantage. Chris Bosh outplayed Gasol from here to South Beach, and the Lakers defended the pick-and-roll as if they were a bunch of guys playing pick-up at the local Y.
3. Andrew Bynum either isn’t ready to play yet, or not capable of asserting himself against really top-flight competition. On this day, it looked like a combination of both. Jackson only used him for 18 ineffective minutes, and Bynum made no impact whatsoever. For this team to seriously contend for a third championship in a row, the big guy has to shake off his knee problem and become a force, especially on defense. If LeBron and Dwayne Wade can penetrate and create as easily as they did in this game, the Lakers have no chance.
4. Check the calendar. It’s only late December. A year ago, on Christmas, LeBron and Cleveland flattened the Lakers. That’s the good news. Here’s the bad: Right now, at this very moment, Kobe and friends might not be among the five best teams in the NBA. Look at what they’ve done so far. They’re 21-9 and, except for Miami, they haven’t played any of the quality teams yet. San Antonio is improved, Dallas is better, the Celtics are deeper and Orlando just made a mega-trade that already has given its offense a boost. If you had to rate teams in order, the Lakers would be behind all of them, and maybe even a few more.
Does any of this mean they can’t bounce back? Of course not. The town will be in something of a post-Christmas panic, but again, titles are won in June, not December.
The Lakers surely are capable of returning to the Finals, but it will take some work. They’re kind of gliding along on automatic at the moment, with their minds elsewhere.
They still have the size and the talent. They still have two of the league’s 10 best players when Kobe and Gasol are at the top of their games. Lamar Odom remains a serious match-up problem and Bynum continues to have — and I know, I hate this word, too — potential. Some of us thought the bench was better, as well, but it sure didn’t look like it against the Heat.
Overall, this was simply a night when Miami wanted it more and played harder. Bosh was the best player on the floor, and if they played 10 more times, you doubt that would happen again.
Still, there was a message in there somewhere. You can’t get by on what you did in the past. It’s a new season with new challenges.
The defending champs ended up looking like they pushed away from one of those big holiday dinner tables, their stomachs full, their goals already achieved. They appeared happy and satisfied. The only thing missing was a loud burp.
LeBron, Dwayne and the guys were hungrier. They looked like somebody stole their pre-game meal and told them to come back later.
Sure, it’s only one game of 82. But if it still looks this way come May and June, the Lakers are really in trouble.
Some quick hits after a wild holiday weekend:
I know it is blasphemy to say, but right now, I’d rather watch Blake Griffin play than Kobe Bryant . . .
Seriously, Griffin’s latest, a flying, one-handed catch and slam against the Suns, might be his best highlight reel play yet . . .
Something is definitely wrong when a team as talented as the Chargers is sitting there at 8-7 and already out of the playoffs . . .
The surprise team of the year, Kansas City, is basically New England-lite. When you realize the Chiefs’ quarterback, as well as both coordiniators and the GM are all former Patriots, you begin to get the idea . . .
The Giants’ season all but ended a week ago when Michael Vick and the Eagles buried them with that amazing fourth quarter comeback. Of course, New York’s NFL worst 41 turnovers this year haven’t helped . . .
Pete Carroll, at 6-9 in Seattle, will play for the NFC West title against the Rams next week. Some guys have all the luck, huh? . . .
You knew once he had that heated sideline exchange with 49ers quarterback Troy Smith that Mike Singletary’s job was in serious danger . . .
Will Tom Brady ever throw another interception? . . .
It was nice of Ron Artest to give away his championship ring, but no one expected him to also give away his old defensive skills . . .
— STEVE BISHEFF