Commentary

Lakers lean on thick skin

L.A.'s ability to deal with adversity is what separates team from the Miami Heat

Updated: March 10, 2011, 12:58 PM ET
By Dave McMenamin | ESPNLosAngeles.com

MIAMI -- The Los Angeles Lakers have played more pressure-packed, show-us-what-you're-made-of playoff games in the past three seasons (67) than the Miami Heat's Big Three have played games together, period (64).

The Lakers had a real reason to cry nearly three years ago when the prelude to their championship sequel was a bitter 39-point series-clinching loss in the NBA Finals to the rival Boston Celtics. But even then, their time for tears was quickly replaced by a very real feeling of fear for their well-being when their bus was pulling out of Boston and being bombarded with bottles and rocks by rowdy Beantown fans.

The Heat, meanwhile, were outed by coach Erik Spoelstra for crying after their loss to Chicago on Sunday, and couldn't get things going right by Tuesday when Portland made it five losses in a row.

[+] EnlargeDerek Fisher
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesExperience allows for cooler heads, and few players are as experienced as -- or cooler than -- Derek Fisher.

All of this is to say, the Lakers know what it takes to win in this league at the highest level, and what it takes to move on and play for tomorrow when you lose.

And the Heat, well, all they can lean on is a stretch earlier this season when they won 21 out of 22 games against the likes of Washington (twice), Cleveland (twice) and other bottom feeders such as Detroit and Sacramento.

"You just always remain faithful," said Lakers guard Derek Fisher before the team practiced Wednesday in Miami in preparation for the rematch against the Heat on Thursday. "Faith is remaining certain in the face of doubt. You're not sure how it's going to end, but you're constantly of the belief that it will end the way you want it to and the way you always believed it to end, and that's on top."

Although the Lakers never want to be stuck reflecting on their past success, coach Phil Jackson with his 11 championship rings, Fisher and Kobe Bryant and their five, and everybody else on the roster who has been a part of the past two know that the NBA history books serve as a guide that they can indeed succeed.

Part of that is the ability to have a selective memory.

The Lakers have had two three-game losing streaks this season and another four-game drought, the most games the team has dropped consecutively since Pau Gasol came aboard. But they never let the doldrums dominate their perspective.

"It's just our unity and our execution," Bryant said. "We don't really overdramatize the situation. It kind of is what it is."

Although Bryant has bristled at Jackson's unconventional coaching tactics in the past, telling reporters he doesn't "buy into that Zen [bull----]," his coach's ways of blocking out what's on the outside and focusing on the power of the players on the inside has clearly had an impact on him.

"We really just don't care what people think, to be honest with you," Bryant said Tuesday night after the Lakers beat the Hawks for their eighth win in a row. "It's tough [s---] we lose four games in a row, what are you going to do about it?

"Phil doesn't give a [s---], so why should we?"

The Heat, knowing that the spotlight is glaring down upon them so harshly all season, have seemed to care too much about people outside of their locker room.

Spoelstra tried to explain how much his team was hurting by telling the world about the players' tears and ended up embarrassing his already fragile group.

LeBron James took to Twitter to proclaim the post-All-Star break of the season to be a "WAR" that he was going to conquer alongside teammates he considers "soldiers." Rather than motivating his so-called troops, he ended up providing more fodder for all the critics.

Bryant, meanwhile, doesn't even have a Twitter account, and when he gets fuming mad and thinks he'll end up saying something in the moment that could damage the team, he'll just shut his trap.

Twice this season, Bryant has ducked out on consecutive media sessions when the team was struggling, including recently before the All-Star break when the team lost to Charlotte and Cleveland, to avoid saying something that's counterproductive. If you're not going to say anything nice, better to say nothing at all.

The Heat have had the bull's-eye on their backs for three-quarters of a season, but the Lakers have been proudly wearing the target for three-plus seasons.

"It takes a little adjusting, I guess," Bryant said of wearing the bull's-eye. "I don't know. I'm still trying to kill people. I don't really look at it that way."

Miami should take the opportunity to look at Thursday's game as a chance to beat the world champs, but even if the Heat can't get the win, there will be an L.A. team right in front of them that they can learn from.

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Dave McMenamin

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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