The warning signs have been there all season long.
No Phil Jackson coached team had ever lost more than three in a row during the regular season and gone on to win a championship. So in essence this title quest was doomed way back in November when the Lake Show dropped four in a row.
But that just seemed like some meaningless fact dug up by Laker haters who were all too eager to see the Purple and Gold fold as they dared to make a fourth consecutive trip to the Finals.
Well, here is a fact that is impossible to ignore no matter who you’re rooting for or against. No team that has ever gone down 0-3 in the NBA Playoffs has come back to win the series. The mark stands at 98-0 for teams with 3-0 leads and after another meltdown in the clutch that is the impossible task the Lakers are facing.
Once upon a time the Lakers erased a 30-point, second half deficit against the Dallas Mavericks. I’ll never forget that game because it taught me a valuable lesson – never give up. Down 66-36 in the third quarter I turned the game off only to discover later the Lakers came back to win.
That was then and this is now.
These aren’t those Mavs and I’m trying to find an excuse to watch these Lakers play again Sunday.
The warning signs have been there all along and these Lakers chose to ignore them.
All season long they’ve lacked the focus needed to win a title. The spin put on it was they’d turn it on when the real season began – the playoffs.
The playoffs began with…a loss. A loss to a team they had dominated in the regular season. Still the Lakers made it through a tougher than expected first round. But the warning signs were there.
Again the excuses resurfaced. This time we were led to believe that this team just wasn’t motivated by the prospects of facing the 7th seeded New Orleans Hornets.
So along came the 3rd seeded Dallas Mavericks. Surely the Lakers would be up for this challenge and for the better part of first three quarters of Game 1 they were. Then the wheels came off as the Lakers blew a 16-point lead and in essence blew their title hopes.
Despite being a team that features the best closer in the game, the Lakers have been miserable in the clutch in this series with Dallas. But that too is nothing new.
During the 5 game slide that concluded the regular season the Lakers had all kinds of problems in crunch time. Again, the warnings signs were there and the Lakers blew them off.
From the start of Game 3 in Dallas you saw every sign possible that indicated this quest to three-peat was being laid to rest. Phil Jackson was as animated as he’s ever been on the sideline. PJ was in Pau Gasol’s face at every stoppage trying every tactic possible to motivate the problem plagued Spaniard.
Phil’s confrontational tactics didn’t work as Gasol authored another worthless playoff performance. 12 points on 13 shots with 8 boards is good enough when you’re up against Carl Landry. However when it’s Dirk Nowitzki dropping 32 on 19 shots like it’s a shoot around then those paltry numbers just won’t cut it.
Another sign of impending doom was the fact the usually aloof Andrew Bynum suddenly became the vocal leader in the locker room. Whereas Kobe Bryant should have been the one calling out his teammates then carrying this team it has been Drew that’s done all of that dirty work.
Gasol could learn a thing or two from his young counterpart. Unlike Pau, Bynum demands the ball and when he gets it he goes to work.
Yet another sure sign of the three-peat gone wanting was the fact that the Lakers got about as much from Ron Artest in suspension as they have with him as a starter – nothing.
Ron Ron’s heroics last postseason forgave his otherwise forgettable performance. This time around a face slap to J.J. Barea is about all we’ll remember of Artest.
All of the warning signs were there and the Lakers have chosen to ignore them.
It’s still too early to start the debate about what the next step is for this franchise but that’s only because there is at least one more game to play. No matter the outcome of Game 4 the reality is inevitable.
To take an iconic saying by the late great Chick Hearn, this three-peat quest in the refrigerator and the Jell-O is jiggling. I’m not saying this series is over but all the warning signs are there and I’m not going to ignore them.