Ted Green: Lakers are Thunderstruck
All of Lakerdom is Thunderstruck, or better be, after the Lakers got run over by a Thunder truck, 110-89, in a Game 4 that was both a shocker and a laugher, tying the series at two games each.
The Thunder the Lakers now hear rumbling in the distance could be the imminent end to their season, one-and-done NBA titlists.
Now prepare to be dumbstruck.
It says here the Lakers are indeed going down in six games, first-round knockout victims, their NBA title so richly earned in 2009 barely defended at all less than a year later.
Go ahead, say it. No way the proud and (at least formerly) talented NBA champs lose an opening-round series to a team that’s never been in the playoffs before, much less accomplished anything, not with two of the remaining three games in Staples Center.
As Ace Ventura said: Reaaaaallllly?
First of all, the Lakers barely eked out the first two games in L.A., nervously winning both, really, by a nose, and not a nose the size of Manu Ginobili’s.
But more to the point, I say there aren’t enough gigabytes in cyberspace to adequately list all of the Lakers’ sudden and perhaps irreversible problems. So let me offer you the abridged short list:
--The Okies are younger, quicker, faster, more athletic, more focused, more together and more determined. Other than that, they barely have any advantage at all, he wrote, dripping with sarcasm.
--The Lakers’ offense, barely shooting 40% in the series, hasn’t really ground to a halt, it’s being stonewalled, shut down, by a tremendous young defensive team that is achieving the unthinkable. They’re making the fumbling, panicky Lakers look amateurish and lost. And now, for the first time, the Lakers don’t have the real Kobe Bryant to bail them out.
--In a kind of domino effect, because they can’t get what they want inside with their bigs, the Lakers are reduced to launching barely makeable threes, which they sometimes shoot late in the clock, but almost as often fire up early, a sure sign of frustration and desperation. Ron Artest, in particular, is shooting about 10% from beyond the arc in the series, but what can you expect, Ron being a blond? If the Lakers lose, Ronnie’s gonna take a lot of the rap, fairly or not.
--Kobe, bless his warrior heart, isn’t electric anymore. He’s unplugged. To use a popular gym term, he’s not a live body anymore. Closer to slow and immobilized. Like an old fighter, his legs are gone. The old boy is beat up, worn down, and even his legendary competitive spirit is no longer enough to help him get good shots over Thabo Sefolosha or Kevin Durant, never mind carry his team in close games and will the Lakers to a repeat championship.
(Can’t help it, you’re not human or honest if you don’t wonder how Dr. Buss feels about that $83-million extension now?)
--The Lakers cannot go deep into the playoffs, maybe not even past next Thursday, with Kobe in the apparent condition he’s in. Period, end of story.
--Durant is a handful, and I’m talking about the size of Dr. J’s hands, but the Lakers have dealt with great scorers before and usually come out on top. It’s Russell Westbrook, super-fast point guard from UCLA, who is controlling and dominating the series.
--At 36, smart and game but slower laterally than a fire hydrant, Derek Fisher has no shot to guard Westbrook. But here’s Phil Jackson’s dilemma: When he goes to his bench to the younger, faster Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar, they can’t do anything with Westbrook either. And the not-so-dynamic Laker duo, their backup guards, compound matters by throwing up enough bricks at the other end to build life-changing houses for Extreme Home Makeover.
--Right now the Thunder, in the big picture, have played the best four games of any of the 16 teams competing in the playoffs. I’ll take that one step further. Right now, with their exuberance and athleticism, the way they’re playing, they’re the best team in the West, period. And their confidence is soaring, like Westbrook and Durant on their way to the bucket.
Finally, like a proverbial marathoner, the Lakers have hit the wall at the 18-mile mark, and it doesn’t look to me like they’re gonna be able to run through it.
If it happens, if the Okies bounce the Lakers in six, the media, thinking inside the box as ever, seeing only superficial descriptions, the stark contrast in reputation and achievement between these two teams, will inevitably describe it as maybe the greatest upset in NBA playoff history. It does make for good copy and catchy lead lines on TV.
But in real terms that speak to what’s actually happening on the court, it won’t be a true upset at all, just an old, tired, worn-out team that chose a very poor time to play its worst basketball, being overtaken by a younger, fresher one … more like an evolution, a simple changing of the basketball guard.
-- Ted Green
Green formerly covered the Lakers for the L.A. Times and is currently Senior Sports Producer for KTLA News
Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant goes to his left hand to loft a shot over Oklahoma City center Nenad Krstic during Game 4 on Saturday night. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times