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Ted Green: Lakers need to rediscover their championship fire

March 17, 2010 |  6:10 am

Proselytizers of the Purple and Gold, please read this first paragraph very carefully: I have written so many column blogs championing the talent of the Lakers and the fact that they have the potential to be another mini-dynasty, rattling off another three-pete, I am now qualified to replace John Black as their PR director when he goes on vacation. 

That said, in the interest of emotionless, journalistic objectivity, I’ve now got one leg off the bandwagon and the other one’s hanging over the side. Why? It’s more like … why not? 

Not to Purple Reign on their parade, but here is the mathematical formula: Bad Regular Season Losses + Consistently Playing Down to the Level of the Competition + Lack of  Any True Sense of Urgency and Purpose + Fat Cat Syndrome From Winning Previous NBA Title + Thinking You Can Flip the Switch at Playoff Time often = A Disappointing Exit Sometime in May.

It’s not just the bad losses — by 26 at Denver Nov. 13, by 15 to Cleveland at home on Christmas, by 15 at Phoenix three days later, by 20 at San Antonio Jan. 12, by 13 to Denver (again) at home Feb. 5 and by 15 at Charlotte exactly a month later on March 5. All teams, even potential champions, suffer bad losses sporadically throughout the monotonous season. That’s the NBA. 

It’s not even that Kobe Bryant has had to bail them out six amazing times this season.  If he misses four or five of those, as he ordinarily might have in some past do-or-die, game-on-the-line moments, they’re tied with Dallas and Denver in the West now or even trailing.  But no, it’s not  just  that, either.
 
It’s a feeling, a powerful sense that the '09 title sated them, filled them with enough success so that even though they have the best record in the West, only a few wins off best in the league, their bellies nevertheless just aren’t burning anymore. Someone alert LAFD. The Lakers' fire is out!

Now many Laker fans, the clear majority, I’d say, are eager to chalk up what Kobe charitably described as their “little malaise” to the doldrums, the outright boredom, of the long and occasionally almost meaningless NBA regular season. 

However, I’m now starting to see this as excuse-making, an alibi, glossing over their lack of passion and purpose, almost, in fact, condoning it.

Awww, don’t worry, they’ll turn it on when it counts. 

Heck, it’s entitlement, is what it is. The way the Lakers have played this season, blowing out almost no one, making many games against inferior teams an E-ride adventure, Phil Jackson needs to take his team to Promises, to undergo some therapy in Entitlement Rehab.

I also can’t quite get my arms around Kobe, figuratively speaking. Although it’s something delicately discussed, if the issue is tackled at all, his nightly Superstar Takeovers in the fourth quarter sometimes seem to hold the rest of the Lakers hostage while negating their real, true strength today … beating people inside with their size and skill.

Yet when he keeps delivering miracles at the end, it only perpetuates the syndrome, that everyone else’s touches, especially Pau Gasol’s, are going to be severely limited over the final five minutes and that there will be a lot of standing around by everybody else while Kobe tries to take 14 guys off the dribble.

Despite the fact they’ll be favored to come out of the West and should be in better shape than Denver or Dallas for the Conference Finals if the Nuggets and Mavs have to beat each other up in the semis,  all of it still adds up to a discomfiting feeling -- that the other shoe could drop, that all somehow isn’t quite right, that the stars are not perfectly aligned in Jerry and Phil’s little rock-star fiefdom.

Oh and did I mention they don’t match up well with the Cavs? And that Phil’s gonna have to earn his $12 mil or whatever the girlfriend’s father pays him by figuring out a way not to have LeBron James beat the Lakers kinda singlehandedly if they both reach the Finals? 

So, right now, I’d put the Lakers' chances of repeating at about 3 in 10, maybe 4 on a good day.

I’d love to be proved wrong.  They sure have the talent.  Now let’s see if they have the heart and will left to do it.

-- Ted Green

Ted Green formerly covered the Lakers and NBA for the L.A. Times. He is currently senior sports producer for KTLA Sports.
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