Why the Lakers' "lack of intensity" is overblown

February, 1, 2010
2/01/10
12:54
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Brian and I typically recap a game by finding its "moment," whether a play, series of possessions, or even a quarter defining the outcome for the Lakers. Yesterday's win over Boston felt naturally defined by one moment in particular, the game-winning fade-away by Kobe Bryant with Ray Allen in his grill.

Not necessarily a unique moment for Lakers, as demonstrated by half a season alone, but a moment nonetheless.

Michael Dwyer/AP Photo
They may not burn with "24/7 intensity," but the Lakers can match another team's outer-fire, if needed.



But Mamba's shot wasn't the only moment I felt defined the win for the Lakers. The first quarter was actually a series of moments providing the other bookend to complement Bryant's game-winner, moments where Boston continually ratcheted up their "intensity," but didn't remember to include smart play as part of the equation.

You had Paul Pierce getting chippy with Ron Artest before the opening jump ball, quickly followed by a reach foul as Ron Ron attempted to drive.

You had Kendrick Perkins barely lasting six minutes before having to sit with two fouls, both away from the ball, the first while denying Andrew Bynum position before an inbound pass, a dead ball foul resulting in two freebies for the center shooting 75% this season. (Think two cheap points don't matter in a contest decided by just one? Think again.)

You had Kevin Garnett, whose scouting report features the phrase "never shuts the %$^# up," running his yap the length of the court after hitting a jumper over a solid challenge from Andrew Bynum. Drew promptly returned the favor by dunking on the former DPOY. Point-counterpoint, Sir Talk-A-Lot.

That sequence came on the heels of Rasheed Wallace jamming a shoulder into Pau Gasol (who just hit a lefty hook over KG), then hooking Pau's arm after El Spaniard's reactive push made clear he wasn't having it. Before the two were hit with double T's, Sheed shoved again, then got in Pau's face. Nothing really came from the altercation, including much production from Wallace, whose four assists were offset by just three points. It wasn't a truly dominant game for Gasol, but with eleven points and eleven boards he clearly outplayed the cat looking to intimidate.


By frame's end, Boston committed seven turnovers, matching their personal foul total, fallen behind 30-19, and often seemed more interested in playing bully on the block than good basketball. They eventually regained the lead, but mirroring the game's start, the Lakers were also better down the stretch. And reflective of earlier issues, Pierce picked up an offensive foul with 27 seconds remaining, directly setting up Kobe's game-winner. For their part, L.A. allowed just two field goals over the final 6:41 of play and maintained the same rhythm whether up or down: steady as a metronome.

Anyone else think the whole "We are warriors on a mission and will prove every three seconds how INTENSE we are, dammit!" vibe can be overrated?

Courtesy of Warner Brothers
Private Pyle after he snapped: Legitimately scary. KG: Not so much.



Yes, it's impressive how Perkins maintains a scowl through the pregame layup drill, the game and (I'm guessing) his post-game shower. And no player recreates better the three-mile stare of "Full Metal Jacket's" Private Pyle than Garnett. Perhaps these are huge assets, but considering fights rarely if ever break out on an NBA court, I find it more comical than intimidating.

Seriously, does anybody think twice about screwing with these guys because of their faces?

On more than one occasion last season, I commented how the Celtics appeared more insecure about being champions than any title holder of recent memory. Barking at opponents like U of Miami football players. Picking up technicals as if a team-wide contest was underway. Seemingly desperate to demonstrate "swag." I would have told them to act like they'd been there before, but as the behavior reminded me (and any team paying attention), they hadn't.

In the meantime, the Lakers have taken a lot of flak for an often casual attitude. A willingness to coast during the "dog days" (i.e., now). Looking "fat and happy." They're not "hungry" anymore.

If this storyline feels like "Groundhog Day," that's because it is.

It's the same flak from the last postseason during an inconsistent semi-finals against the Rockets. A series, if memory serves, laying the groundwork for an eventual championship captured by the Lakers.

It's the same flak from the 2008-2009 regular season, when Brian and I heard enough complaints to spend part of a Podkast debating whether "the eye of the tiger" exists outside of the world of Rocky Balboa and Survivor, much less if the Lakers lacked it.

Those with long memories might also remember the second and third three-peat teams taking flak for a "flip the switch" mindset. I guess that's why they didn't win four in a row.

Kinda like how after sweeping the Celtics and Cavs last season, not to mention series against the "powder puff" likes of Denver, Utah, San Antonio, etc. during the 2008 and 2009 playoffs, a loss or two against any physical team automatically means another round of "are the Lakers soft" chatter.

Even the boy who cried wolf gets a chuckle out of this stuff.

Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Despite constant cries of not being championship worthy, the Lakers did in fact win the championship.



I'm not suggesting the Lakers sleepwalk until mid-April, then make a pact to "show up." I'm not suggesting indifference towards making these games a useful exercise for the playoffs. I'm not poo-pooing the significance of regular season games altogether.

But at the same time, if the Lakers don't come across like a team defending a championship right now, it's because, technically speaking, they aren't. They're playing the regular season games required by NBA rules before defending their title.

Quite frankly, they're a little dull by comparison and in the grand scheme of things typically amount to a helluva lot of nothing. The Lakers know this, because they're a veteran team with oodles of experience. Plus, they do in fact want to win these games, but only because they expect themselves to, not because they're looking to "prove themselves." Remember, the other 29 teams are the ones evaluating how they stack up against the champs, not the other way around.

Obviously, there are legitimate reasons to wonder if they can repeat. ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin sites matching up poorly against quick guards, a concern seconded by ESPNLosAngeles.com's John Ireland. It wouldn't kill anything to improve marksmanship from downtown. And while I think these guys generally play hard, it often irritates me when they don't play smart and focused, if for no other reason than it makes "cruise cont more effective..

But can we please STOP making a talking point out of 82 regular season games not being played with purple and gold hair on fire? Believe me, if I thought these guys were content not to repeat, I'd say so. No headline is more guaranteed to get Land O' Lakers clicks. However, that's not the case, and any lack of "24/7 intensity" before the All-Star game shouldn't convince otherwise.

If we've learned anything, these Lakers are usually adept at adjusting intensity to match teams that, like Ferris Bueller's buddy Cameron, are capable of forming diamonds out of coal with their buttocks.

Is that really not enough?

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Nick Young
PTS AST STL MIN
17.9 1.5 0.7 28.3
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 7.4
AssistsK. Bryant 6.3
StealsK. Bryant 1.2
BlocksW. Johnson 1.0