By Saddam Rabadi – Cougar News Contributor
The Los Angeles Lakers have heard it all: they are too old, they should have made a trade, they cannot beat the best teams in the NBA, they are not motivated by games in the regular season, and Kobe is not what he used to be.
It is all about effort with the Lakers. Nothing else. We have seen what the Lakers are capable of when they put forth the effort. They have beaten the likes of the Celtics, Spurs, Mavericks, Magic, the Thunder (twice), and the Nuggets on the road. A prime example of the Lakers capabilities was seen when they absolutely drubbed the Spurs in San Antonio. The Lakers have since carried that momentum to quality wins over quality teams. The flip side is the horrific losses that they have suffered at the hands of mediocre teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers (the team with the worst record in the NBA), the Sacramento Kings, the Charlotte Bobcats (they were later able to avenge that loss), and the Clippers (another loss that they later avenged). However, they suffered these embarrassing losses not because these teams were faster, or younger, or even better than the Lakers, but rather, the Lakers just simply showed no effort.
We all know that the Lakers are capable of turning it on when it is playoff time. We saw it last year when the Lakers struggled down the stretch, but were still able to win the NBA Championship by defeating the Celtics in game seven of the NBA Finals. We also witnessed it the year before when everyone questioned their toughness after they were man-handled by a hungrier more determined Celtics team in the 2008 NBA Finals. Their lackadaisical approach can be dated back to when Shaq was around; still, they were able to three-peat.
Even if the Lakers do not get the number one seed in the Western Conference–which they probably will not since they trail the Spurs by 7 games with only 12 games left in the regular season–they are still the favorites to win it all. With three legitimate and active seven footers on their team and the best closer in the NBA to go along with proven veterans such as Fisher, Artest, and Barnes, the Lakers look to be in great shape to three-peat. I do not see a scenario, barring injuries, in which the Lakers will not three peat. They just have too much size and depth. Now that Barnes is back from injury to solidify the back-up role to Ron Artest, the Lakers are at full-strength and look ready to send a message to the rest of the league that the road to the championship still runs through L.A.
We have heard it all year from the Lakers that if it is not playoff time, then they are not concerned with these losses and that they can turn it on when it counts. Phil Jackson said, “Is it the Playoffs yet?” after a loss to the Heat on Christmas Day. Kobe has also said on multiple occasions, after losing a game that they should have won, that he is not concerned. The playoffs have still not begun, but the Lakers understand that now is the time to start making a serious push with only 12 games left in the regular season.
With the Lakers in full health, and perhaps more importantly, fully engaged in what they are doing, they look poised to win a third championship in as many years. However, the road only gets tougher for the Lakers, 9 of their last 12 games are against teams over .500. Easily one of the toughest remaining schedules in the NBA. Before the San Antonio game on March, 6, Phil Jackson called that stretch “a make or break point” for the Lakers. And the Lakers responded by going 4-1 in that stretch. I believe that the Lakers will continue to make it.
With everyone now on the same page and focused and playing with effort, I look forward to the Lakers hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy when it is all said and done.