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Thursday, May 21, 2009
These Lakers are hard to believe in

By Scoop Jackson
Page 2

Q: "What have you learned about yourselves as a team?" (Asked during the post-Game 7 Lakers-Rockets press conference)

A: "That we're bipolar." (Kobe Bryant)

Kobe Bryant
Kobe and company came up clutch in Game 1 against the Nuggets.

The Lakers came out of Game 1 against the Nuggets, to a man, talking about only two things: guts and effort.

Kobe, Phil, Lamar, Pau. All saying the same thing. How their "effort" won the game; how they "gutted it out." It was so far from where they just had come. In their last series against the Rockets, the words "guts" and "effort" seemed to be associated only with the other side. Houston didn't seem to have a problem, L.A. did.

But then this. The Gut-Out. The Exquisite Effort. The Beautiful Struggle. Game 1 versus the Nuggets done -- Lakers win.

But ask yourself -- with all the honesty you can muster up, without saying it out loud to one of your Laker Hater friends" -- do you still believe in them?

Yes, them. Those who reside on basketball's dark side, the same way the Yankees do in baseball and the Cowboys do in football. The NBA's Evil Empire. Them. Do you still believe the Lakers will win it all? Do you still believe in the Lakers the way you did at the beginning of these playoffs? Is this still the team you, in your heart of hearts, want to continue to believe in?

Those are the questions you must answer right now, before we can go any further in this quest.

Game 1 was only one game, but it was a game that said a lot. It showed us, for the first time in the playoffs this year, the team many of us expected to see when the "real" games began on April 19. Focused on getting back to the Finals. Prior to Tuesday night, it seemed like the Lakers team that showed up for every game was different every game. Dominant in one game, Keystone Cops the next. And on top of that, the Lakers showed no pride on the court. Like the ring was important to them, but how they got there -- or how they looked getting there -- meant nothing.

None of us knew what to take from that, what to take from them. The Lakers never panicked, but they never seemed like they cared all that much either. Facial expressions … body language … sound bites … nothing seemed to bother them, or matter to them. It was as if they were telling the world: "You all don't get it. We're here for the ring, but we're not about to make this any easier than it needs to be."

They were like the brilliant kids in high school who come home with C's because that's all they need to get by.

TNT's Kenny Smith has said he still thinks the Lakers will win the chip, but he has also said what millions of people (OK, maybe a couple hundred thousand) are thinking: "The Lakers don't deserve to win the championship." Charles Barkley went one step farther -- he feels the fact that the Lakers are this talented and playing the way they've been playing is "a shame." Almost as if they were disrespecting the game and the league.

Pau Gasol
Will the Lakers be able to shut down the Nuggets in Game 2? We'll see.

And it is who the Lakers are that irritates us most. Especially those of us who bleed purple, yellow and white. Yes, the Celtics went through something very similar in the first two rounds last year, and they still came away with rings filled with rocks. But this is different. Getting pushed to the brink by a sub-.500, inexperienced Atlanta squad and a LeBron hell-bent and driven Cleveland squad is much different than getting pushed to the limit by a Houston team sans Ming, Mutombo and McGrady.

This time last year, the Celtics left you wondering whether or not you still loved them. These Lakers? They're leaving you with a bad taste in your mouth.

So, do you still believe at all? Or do you just believe to a lower degree? With less faith?

Did the way the Lakers played Tuesday night bring you back to where you once were? Back to the beginning. When no one could walk up to you and say anything negative about the Lakers.

Are you back there yet?

Or, are you expecting Kobe's words at the top of this column to continue to be true?

You wish it all could go away in an instant, don't you? You wish that the Lakers team you came into the postseason believing was unbeatable would just return, so that the indecisiveness that has taken over your basketball soul could disappear.

Wish it was just that simple.

Need the Lakers to return to being the best team in the NBA? Yeah, there's an app for that.

I know how you feel.

Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.