Never forget how quickly things can change in the NBA. Five days ago, the Lakers took down the Miami Heat in convincing fashion on national television, Mike Brown was floating Kobe Bryant as an MVP candidate, and Kobe, himself, was talking about the Lakers as title contenders.
A few days later, and the Lakers have lost two straight games to two of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference, and the conversation has shifted 360 degrees. Wednesday night, the Lakers lost to the Wizards a night after losing to the Pistons, and Brown cited Kobe's shooting as one of the team's problems in the second half.
"He was one of the guys that I did not think took great shots in the second half," he said. "In the first half, our flow was there, and he got great looks and made the game easy. In the second half, our looks weren't as good." Cutting through the pronoun's ambiguity toward the end of that quote: Kobe's looks weren't as good.
Meanwhile... There's this report:
Sources told ESPNLosAngeles.com this week that there is growing concern among some Lakers players as to whether first-year coach Mike Brown and his staff have the X-and-O wherewithal to fix a Lakers offense that is averaging its lowest per-game point total (94) since before the advent of the 24-second shot clock in 1954-55.
these two latest losses have brought the issues right back to the forefront and perhaps even exacerbated the situation as the team nears the March 15 trade deadline, continuing to languish in the middle of the pack in the Western Conference.
Sources told ESPNLosAngeles.com that multiple players have continued to meet privately since the initial team meeting to discuss running elements of the Triangle offense again.
And just like that, five days after the Lakers were contenders again, we're talking about whether the Lakers are plotting a Triangle-flavored mutiny against Mike Brown's vanilla offense. This is what happens in a league with only so many storylines to go around. When you're running back to the same teams over and over again, you'll end up going in circles.
Especially with games coming in bursts this year, it can be easy to forget that even a shorter season is still a long ass season. Particularly with a team like L.A. this year, there will be ups and downs. The Lakers are nowhere near the Miami Heat's level on a nightly basis, but they can be every now and then. They're not as broken as the team that's supposedly plotting a revolution to free themselves from Mike Brown's tyranny, but sometimes they'll look like it.
I was at Wednesday's Wizards game, and before tip-off, Wolf Blitzer was on the JumboTron telling fans about the Lakers. He talked about Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest to ever play, and the rest of the roster, "full of savvy veterans." Like Matt Barnes, Andrew Goudelock, Josh McRoberts and Derek Fisher? Because those are the role players filling out the roster around Kobe, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. "Savvy" is close, but "sh***y" seems more appropriate.
Watching the Lakers Wednesday, three things were obvious:
Derek Fisher is not good enough. They need a real point guard, and if they don't make a move by March 15, it's basically conceding the title. Having a capable bench scorer would be helpful, too.
Kobe is still Kobe. Like, 75 percent of the time. He's unbelievable in spots, and he's good enough to carry the Lakers offense for long stretches at a time. The problem is the pockets in between his dominance. Wednesday, those pockets came in the fourth quarter, and the Lakers had no alternatives. The Lakers have gotten so used to relying on Kobe that there's no Plan B. Maybe Mike Brown could fix this, but at this point, Kobe's such a dominant presence that it's on him to get Bynum and Gasol involved. And he would, except that I'm not sure Kobe can help himself. Haters gon' hate and Kobe gon' Kobe -- expecting him to ration his shots on his own is like asking a lion to hunt more selectively. (Note: This is where having a real coach would be helpful, but even Phil Jackson seemed powerless toward the end). (Note: This is why Kobe's twilight is going to be so much fun!).
The Lakers are too old for this s**t. Like Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon.
That last one is the biggest point here. Even horrible teams like the Wizards have big games from time to time -- the games where their stadium's full and loud throughout -- because of the other team. There are only two teams in the NBA that play these games every night.
You have the Miami Heat, who play to sell-out crowds wherever they go. Usually those road crowds break down to about 70 percent of fans who show up to boo, and 30 percent who are fairweather fans who bought the tickets off Craigs List so they could chant "M-V-P!" at LeBron for two hours. The tension between diehard fans and fairweather fans boils all game, and if it's close toward the end, no matter how bad the home team is, it starts to feel like a playoff game. When your team is terrible, beating the Heat is its own little miracle. Look at the way Utah celebrated last weekend.
That's why it's so impressive to watch Miami run through the NBA this year, the same way they did for most of last year. Whether you're talking teams or players, what separates great from good is the ability to come through every single night. Miami makes it look much easier than it is.
The Lakers face the same challenge every night, but they can't answer quite like the Heat. Partly, because they don't have as much to prove, and partly because the team's not as great as they were when they earned all this infamy. So, is it surprising that L.A. looks average some nights? During a season where games come back-to-back more than ever, L.A. gets everyone's best shot, and all our judgment is condensed and amplified? It's a long season, and with games coming in shorter bursts than ever, aberrations can sometimes look like a trend.
The Lakers are the same team they were before they beat the Heat, and two forgettable nights in Detroit and D.C., don't change a thing. Kobe is the catalyst for everything, for better or worse. If that seems problematic, it's certainly not new, and the Lakers cast their lot when they hired Mike Brown. When Kobe shoots 13-for-31 like he did Wednesday, L.A.'s almost definitely doomed.
But most nights he'll be better, and so will the Lakers.
Can they win a title? Probably not, but they're not as much of a mess as it may seem today, so let's not write them off just yet. The bench is thin, point guard is a problem, but even if none of those problems are fixed, the talent's still scary when it clicks, and it'll take a good team playing well to knock them out when it counts. Ask the Heat team that had no answers in L.A. last weekend. Two bad losses in March won't make them any less daunting in May.