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Friday, April 9, 2010
No quick fixes

By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com

DENVER -- About an hour before his team was set to start playing its 78th game of the season, Lakers coach Phil Jackson was asked a pretty simple question.

When's the last time your team has played good, solid basketball on a consistent basis?

"We haven't done that," Jackson said, matter of fact, the same way he'd answer if somebody asked if his team has ever sampled the new breakfast dining menu at Subway.

Wait a second. You mean to tell me you broke your first huddle of the season with "1-2-3 Championship!" more than six months ago and you've yet to see your squad play like champions for more than a game here or a game there?

"We haven't had a stretch of games where we've played consistently well," Jackson said. "We had a seven-game winning streak and I don't think we played exceptionally well all the way through any of those games."

Jackson has 10 rings. He coached the Bulls to 72 wins in 1995-96, the best regular-season record in NBA history. Maybe he just is hard to please and has ridiculous standards.

Let's ask Derek Fisher. He has only four-tenths the titles that Jackson has and he's the president of the NBA Players Association, so not only does he know how to talk, he knows how to be diplomatic in doing so. He wasn't going to bury the team like his coach, right?

"We've had an issue collectively having something we can stick on the bulletin board and say, 'This is, today, this is why we need to play a certain way,'" Fisher said. "All season, it's been about repeating as champions and as the season as shortened, it doesn't seem like we've kept an ability to find a purpose for, 'today.'"

Oh.

Even Fish realizes that the Lackingers, err Lakers, have woken up to more than 180 "todays" this season and are still making like a bunch of Bill Murrays in "Groundhog Day," and are making the exact same mistakes, be it coming out flat, turning the ball over, taking ill-advised shots, flubbing defensive rotations, etc.

The only difference between the Hollywood movie and the team from Tinsel Town is the recurring theme song that starts every poor outing is "I Got a Feeling" by the Black Eyed Peas (played incessantly in arenas throughout the league) instead of "I Got You Babe" by Sonny & Cher.

Jackson was wrong, actually. There has been a chunk of games this season when the team has played consistently well: The six games that Kobe Bryant has missed because of various leg injuries.

Without Bryant in the lineup Thursday after he dipped out at the last second because of swelling in his right knee, the Lakers played with a purpose (for every quarter but the second, anyway). It was a game that would end up a 98-96 loss in get-your-hopes-up-then-dashed fashion after Carmelo Anthony blocked Fisher's potential game-winner.

L.A. is 4-2 on the season when it's missing the Mamba, with both losses coming on last-second misfires by Fisher against very good teams, first at home against Boston in February and then Thursday in Denver.

Which brings to mind, there is another way the Lakers have performed on a high level on a consistent basis this season: In the nine games when Bryant has taken the potential game-winning shot, hitting seven of them and only missing two.

Of course, the two instances of the team's consistency are mutually exclusive. Whatever value the Lakers have in playing well without Kobe is negligent because they can't close games without him. Whatever value they have in Kobe bailing them out is discounted because his teammates haven't figured out a way to play at their peak with him for the rest of the game.

That's not going to work in the playoffs.

The Lakers keep pushing back their deadline for when they should be in sync for their playoff run like a lazy college student making up myriad excuses to his professor about why he needs an extension on the due date of his term paper.

First they were waiting on Pau Gasol to return from his hamstring injuries. Then they were waiting on Luke Walton's back.

They went 0-3 through Miami, Charlotte and Orlando and had an air-it-out meeting and promised to get back on track. And they did, until they went 2-3 on their next big road trip with embarrassing losses to Oklahoma City, New Orleans and Atlanta, and promised to put it together for the stretch run. And they did against Utah for one measly game and then dropped their last two against San Antonio and Denver, two teams they'll have to get through in the postseason to get that repeat championship they covet.

And the way you win a championship is to be consistent for 40 days and 40 nights, the NBA's slogan for the two-month slog that is known at the playoffs and Finals. Bryant called the postseason "another process" on Thursday, but a process usually entails a series of steps that one can only advance by completing the previous one successfully.

Somehow we're supposed to believe that this team is going to escape all the perturbing patterns it's fallen into and suddenly stay consistent enough to win 16 games in four rounds over two months to lift the Larry O'Brien trophy again?

It's beginning to look like if they haven't done it yet, they're not ever going to do it.