The End Of The Lakers? The End Of The Lakers.

The Dallas Mavericks have the L.A. Lakers on the ropes in the Western Conference semifinals, and after years of dominating, the end is finally here for Kobe and the Lakers.

Even if you expected the Lakers to fade into the sunset this year, you never expected this. Not an absolute drubbing by the likes of the Dallas Mavericks, at home, with Dirk dominating and the Lakers stars disappearing. You had to think, at the very least, Kobe and the Lakers would go down shooting.

But it's kind of perfect. Or at least, it makes perfect sense given what we know about this Lakers team. All year long they've gone back and forth between "freakishly dialed in" and "totally checked out." It just so happens they hit the second phase again at the worst time possible.

I was at dinner with SB Nation friends on Wednesday night before the Lakers and Mavs tipped off, and at one point our boss Jim Bankoff asked whether anyone could beat the Miami Heat. I told him the only team I think can beat LeBron and the Heat was Oklahoma City. Boston's too old, Chicago's not quite there yet, and L.A. has the talent to win, but they won't get that far.

Then someone else chimed in to chide me for doubting L.A. "Oh, come on. We go through this every year with the Lakers. They'll be fine. They'll beat the Mavs, they'll beat OKC in one of those great seven game series, and then they can beat the Heat." And hey, they still might!

But as I said last night, "The Lakers just don't seem to give a damn this year."

"Well, not Kobe..." someone said.

"Oh, yeah, he's insane."


"No, not in a good way. He's totally unpredictable at this point. Like, actually insane."


As for his teammates: Pau Gasol doesn't want the ball and wants no part of Dirk Nowitzki on defense; the Lakers bench has been godawful; Ron Artest reverted to his Sacramento days on Wednesday and almost certainly got himself suspended for Friday's game. Meanwhile, Phil Jackson's been a space cadet — how are Matt Barnes and/or Lamar Odom not guarding Dirk Nowitzki every second that Dirk's on the court? — and Andrew Bynum's been solid, but he's getting more and more frustrated as he goes ignored. Then there's Kobe, who's pressing the gas harder than ever, but just can't get to that extra gear.

Sure, they still talk like champions. Despite his frustration, Bynum says he's "100% confident" they can win the series. To wit, Kobe said "Everybody's tripping" and that if the Lakers "play with relentless energy" in Game 3, "we'll be fine." But it's been a while since we've seen "relentless energy"...

The Lakers have every reason to think they can still win this series. But we've seen them sleepwalk through the first few weeks of the playoffs already... Why should we think they'll suddenly wake up?

It'd be one thing if this were the Celtics and they were going back home for the next two games. Boston may be fossilizing before our eyes, but you know they're going to fight at home. If a team gives a damn, a home crowd can carry you in the short term.

On the other hand, L.A.'s going on the road and the Lakers' problem is bigger than matchups. Theoretically, they should win every matchup on the court, except for Dirk Nowitzki. But they keep getting burned by the Dallas pick-and-roll: in part because Dirk's been torching them and L.A.'s terrified of leaving him open, but also because they've just been slow to shift defensively.

That part just comes down to effort. There's a lack of urgency, and a lack of respect for the other Mavs players. L.A. may fear Dirk, but the problem is they don't fear guys like J.J. Barea. If someone asks you how a guy like J.J. Barea can wind up dominating in a playoff game, the most obvious answer is Dirk Nowitzki freed him up on the pick-and-roll.

The other, equally acceptable explanation? "The Lakers just don't seem to give a damn."

What's crazy about this Lakers team is that even with that kind of effort on D, they'd still be the favorites to win this series if they could put it together on offense. The Lakers may not have the passion to chase J.J. Barea or Deshawn Stevenson all over the court, but their offense is still a juggernaut ... when it works.

The lack of effort will cost them against OKC (or Memphis, even), but they could still beat Dallas just because they're that talented. Dallas has the best player in the series, and L.A. has numbers two through six on that list.

So far, though, it's been up to Kobe to carry them on his own, partly because Kobe wanted it that way (in Game 1) and partly because his teammates have disappeared (in Game 2). When that happens for one game, the Lakers may win 50% of the time. But if that happens for the entire playoffs and the Lakers are only winning 50% of the time, then they lose. It's not rock science.

The problem with Kobe is that we have as good a chance guessing which Kobe will show up as his teammates do. They don't know whether he's going to take 30 shots and score 40, or take 20 shots and score 25, then quietly take shots at Pau Gasol in the media. It's not about Kobe being selfish; he just wants it so bad, he's pressing in both directions. Sometimes that means passing to a petrified Gasol, sometimes it means ignoring Andrew Bynum. Lately, it means the Lakers lose.

What does it mean when a team is dysfunctional on offense, and disinterested on defense? It means watching the most talented team in basketball lose to a team with one superstar and a bunch of guys that were washed up last year. It means anyone that's ever defended Pau Gasol's toughness (or doubted Dirk Nowitzki's) feels a little stupid now. It means watching Kobe come to terms with his own mortality while Phil's failure is obscured by his own immortality.

It means that Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and Kobe will all go down in the same year. It means that at the end of all this, the Lakers will have to come to terms with reality. It means Pau and Bynum will be trade bait this summer, when L.A. will make a play for Dwight Howard and/or Chris Paul.

It's still surreal, and it'll take a while to sink in. But this is the end.

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