Ordering double shot of Shaq, Kobe
America ... we have a series.
Almost had one, anyway.
With L.A. up 3-1, then, it's inevitable that folks -- yeah, us -- will start examining the problems awaiting L.A. post-Houston.
That's because L.A., on top of all its injury fears and locker-room tensions, faces some biggies. Given how average they've looked for long stretches against the Rockets, and how thoroughly San Antonio broomed out the deep darlings from Memphis, the Lakers must already realize what they'll have to have to topple the Spurs.
That would be two studly performances in the same game at least four times.
That would be four combined detonations from a flowing Shaq and Kobe, basically.
The problem? In four games against inexperienced Houston, it has happened only once for the Lakers, and Shaquille O'Neal wasn't part of that breakthrough twosome: Kobe Bryant and Karl Malone finally formed a dominant tag team in Game 4. Shaq simply hasn't been the wrecking ball some of us -- yes, me -- were expecting, based mostly on the assumption that he'd be amped up earlier than ever in the playoffs after every preview in circulation focused on his forthcoming showdown in the pivot with Yao Ming.
Turns out L.A. doesn't need Shaq to disassemble Yao to advance comfortably to the second round. O'Neal can get away with coasting a bit against the Rockets to save energy for later, and Houston's unheralded defense -- good on Bryant as well as Shaq -- has to get some credit for limiting The Diesel's damage.
Just remember: In the next round, there won't be any room for conservation or rationalization. The Lakers have to have spurts of domination from Shaq against Tim Duncan, or else Phil Jackson will still be stuck on nine rings, sent home early by the Spurs again.
Last season, when best-of-seven was introduced for the first round, only one of the eight series ended in less than six games. This spring, sadly, only four matchups (Detroit vs. Milwaukee, Miami vs. New Orleans, Minnesota vs. Denver and Sacramento vs. Dallas) have a legitimate shot at lasting more than five games. It wouldn't be surprising, furthermore, if three of those -- all but Kings vs. Mavericks -- ended in five.
Trust us II: If you were in American Airlines Center to see this extended cartoon, you'd still be talking about it.