Lakers dance to a familiar tune
Phil's upset, and the Lakers are in a shambles. Haven't we heard this before?
PORTLAND, Ore. -- If we've learned anything about this talented Lakers team over the past several seasons is that it's a resilient one.
But that resiliency is too often discovered as a symptom of disinterest. Or at least inconsistent interest.
"These guys just don't want to play hard right now," said Lakers head coach Phil Jackson after Los Angeles lost to Portland 93-86 on Friday.
It was their fourth loss in a row, one that Jackson characterized as "lazy and inefficient" and left him questioning his team's professionalism in the locker room after the game.
In the 2009 playoffs Jackson called them a "Jekyll and Hyde" team for their up-and-down play against an undermanned Houston team in the second round. When they finally got past the Rockets in Game 7, Kobe Bryant was asked what he learned about his team and said matter-of-factly, "We're bipolar."
That DNA hasn't changed.
Yes, the team that went 17-1 out of the gate after the All-Star break has lost four straight by coughing up 18.5 turnovers a game and making like a sieve on transition defense.
But it's really not too different than they've looked at their worst at other points in the season, as this is their fourth losing streak of three games or more this year.
"With this team we've been through so much during the season as far as how we play -- ups and downs, trials and tribulations through the year," Lamar Odom said. "We're just at that point of the year where I guess we're just going through it again. It's a matter of finding it, fixing it and preparing for the playoffs."
Whether or not they find it in the next three games to finish off the regular season matters little to these Lakers, really.
It's not too much of a stretch to envision them heading into the postseason on a seven-game losing streak, as their three remaining games could be challenging. They will face a Thunder team surging towards the No. 3 seed in the West on Sunday, the first-place Spurs on Tuesday and then the season finale Wednesday on the road in a game that could prove to be the all-time finale for professional basketball in Sacramento.
If the Lakers keep messing around, their one-game lead on Dallas could disappear and they could end up back in the No. 3 spot they were in before their recommitted drive after All-Star weekend. They could also fall behind Miami and Boston (they're currently tied) and relinquish home-court advantage in a potential Finals matchup between one of those two teams.
"We need to win to have our position in second [in the West]," Andrew Bynum said. "So these games are definitely important."
Bynum, at 23, has the least experience of the group. He keeps wanting the guys to change, to play up to their potential every night, to act like it all matters to them. But while Bynum bemoaned his team's negative energy after the loss to lowly Golden State on Wednesday, Bryant literally laughed off the notion that the Lakers are suddenly in a bind.
What, we worry?
It's the same from Jackson, too.
After the game he admitted to dressing down his players a bit Friday, questioning their focus and attention. But when asked if he was "concerned," well
"No. I'm really not," Jackson said. "Ultimately the end result comes in a week and a half when they start the playoffs. But it's no fun to go through games like this when you're coaching."
It's no fun to watch either.
The dirty little secret is that Friday's result was a rare win-win.
Of the three teams the Lakers could conceivably play in the first round -- Portland, Memphis and New Orleans -- the Trail Blazers would probably be the biggest pain to get through on L.A.'s path to the title.
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And even though Nate McMillan's guys backdoor-lobbed the Lakers to death Friday and now have won 10 out of 12 against L.A. at the Rose Garden, there's no way they would actually prefer playing the back-to-back champs during Jackson's "last stand" to an inexperienced team like Oklahoma City or an older team like the Mavericks.
Portland moved a half-game ahead of New Orleans for the No. 6 spot and a first-round date with Dallas on Friday. And even though Jackson joked that the Blazers would be the most "advantageous" of the Lakers' three opening-round possibilities because Portland would involve the shortest flight and no time zone change, the David West-less Hornets would be an easier out.
But here we are, talking about the playoffs when there are still three regular-season games remaining. It makes sense that the Lakers' minds have drifted there too.
"I don't really get worried with this team," Odom said. "You get worried when you don't know what to do. It's just a matter of us going out there and doing it."
Bryant and Pau Gasol were both asked point-blank if the Lakers would end their rut Sunday against Oklahoma City or let it continue.
Both of them said they wouldn't know until Sunday.
But a week from Sunday, when the playoffs start, that's a different story.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.