Lakers take a Christmas vacation
Basketball players and fans alike witnessed an embarrassing effort by a cocky team
LOS ANGELES -- For weeks the Lakers have looked tired and lethargic.
For weeks we have forgiven them.
We understood why it would be hard to get up for the Milwaukee Bucks on a Tuesday night after an 11-day road trip.
We get why they are taking a measured view of the season and not pushing too hard, too soon.
Los Angeles fans are front-runners, but they are a lot more savvy than people give them credit for.
But this was too much.
Magic Johnson called it an "embarrassment."
Phil Jackson essentially said it was a waste of time.
Lamar Odom called his team "cocky."
The Lakers 96-80 loss to the Miami Heat on Saturday was all of those things.
But mostly, it was just insulting to everyone who paid money for a ticket or spent any portion of their holiday watching at home.
A professional basketball game was played at the Staples Center on Christmas Day, but only one team brought a professional attitude to the game.
The other team was the Lakers.
"It's your job," Kobe Bryant said angrily, when asked if it's just harder for his team to get into the regular season after winning back-to-back championships.
"You have to show up and work. I don't buy that crap. You have to show up and get to work."
Saturday afternoon the Lakers didn't really show up or work very hard.
They looked like a team that hasn't really started focusing on this season yet.
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"I think these games mean more to our opponents than they do to us," Bryant said. "I think we need to get that straight. We need to play with more focus and put more importance on these games.
"We know what we're capable of doing and that's the problem. We've been there before and we know what we need to do and it's kind of like, 'OK, we'll do it.' But we need to get going here."
For the better part of two months, the Lakers have had it both ways:
A long leash from their fans, who understand the rigors of three-straight runs to the NBA Finals, and the residual swagger of a two-time defending champion with enough returning talent to win whenever they bring their best effort.
They've earned that long leash.
Not just by winning those two championships, but with their track record of rising to the occasion when the occasion warranted a better effort.
The Lakers have been this kind of team for the better part of a decade, brilliant when they need to be, maddeningly blase when they're bored.
Nothing about this style or substance is a shock.
But there is a risk when a team makes that kind of bargain and then under-delivers in a game of this magnitude.
Understanding turns to ire.
Patience turns to petulance.
After the game, the Lakers were a locker room divided.
Some, like Derek Fisher, continued to preach patience through their teeth.
Others began the painful process of looking into the mirror, and swallowed hard on the ugly reflection.
"Part of our problem is we're cocky. We feel like we shouldn't lose. We can't lose," Lamar Odom said. "That's been our problem, I think this season. Especially early on this season.
"It's just the way we came in. It started in training camp after winning two championships in a row. Success can do that to people."
Yeah, we get all that. Expected it, too.
The Lakers have never been a team than needed to be feared or worried about whether they were admired.
They simply believed in their talent and ability to summon their best when their best was needed.
But there is a cost to cockiness.
In the standings mostly -- as rivals in San Antonio and Dallas build bigger hills for them to climb in the second half of the season -- but also in what a game like Saturday signals to the rest of the league.
This was the kind of game the Lakers should've been able to get up for, but instead they flatlined.
"Now of course we gave them a shot of confidence," Odom said. "Just in case if they have to come back through here."
It was just about the only reference to a possible Finals match-up to come from the Lakers locker room all night.
The Heat had heretofore been a curiosity to the Lakers, a would-be rival without accomplishment or history to stand on yet.
Better dismissed than acknowledged.
But the question isn't whether the Heat have the Lakers attention now.
It's whether the Lakers are finally going to turn their full attention to this season.
Ramona Shelburne is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow her on Twitter.