By Craig Kwasniewski
Panic is everywhere, people are rioting! Run for your lives! The Lakers are headed for doom... DOOM I tell ya. They can't shoot, they can't defend, they can't beat anybody. How is this team the #1 seed in the Western Conference? How??? All I know is that I'm picking (insert #8 seed here) to upset the Lakers in the first round.
(But not really.) I've basically summed up all the panic tweets, texts and blogs that I've read in the past few days. Panic is upon all of Lakers fandom, the ill-effects of an extended dog days has left NBA fans convincing themselves that the defending champs are prime for a major upset this spring. One of the most telling stats that was emailed to me was the Lakers record since All-Star break: a very paultry 14-9 with an average margin of victory of 1.2 points. Not really firing on all cylinders heading down the final stretch of the season, are they? But before buying into the panic, let's actually break down each game since the All Star Game in Dallas (wins in bold, and * means I was actually there to, as some might say, witness the carnage):
02/16/10 vs. Golden State* - Lakers pulled away for an easy win without Kobe, who's been out since Feb. 5th.
02/18/10 vs. Boston* - Rallied to lead in the 4th but couldn't hold on. Without Kobe they crumbled under the Celtics defensive pressure, losing at the buzzer.
02/23/10 @ Memphis - Kobe returns and just in time to help rally the Lakers and hit yet another game winning jumper.
02/24/10 @ Dallas - Lost to a Mavericks team riding the wave of the Caron Butler trade. Mavs were on a high in the middle of a 13-game winning streak.
02/26/10 vs. Philadelphia - Bounce back W, but an unimpressive one against a very active 76ers.
02/28/10 vs. Denver* - A message-sending W against a team they had trouble beating earlier in the season. One of their most impressive victories of the season.
03/02/10 vs. Indiana - Size matters and Indiana doesn't have any. Easy W for the Lakers.
03/04/10 @ Miami - Tough loss in OT to the Heat. Close all the way, much like the game at Staples earlier in the year. Really the game could have gone either way.
03/05/10 @ Charlotte - A very bad loss to the Bobcats. Since the 2004 NBA Finals, Larry Brown dominates Phil Jackson. Obviously Dr. Brown has developed the antidote to the triangle. Still, Charlotte is playoff bound and has had many tough wins against top-notch teams, so the loss isn't a surprise at all.
03/08/10 @ Orlando - News item, the Orlando Magic are a damn good team. So the Lakers came within a Kobe miss at the buzzer from sending the game into OT. The first three game losing streak in the Pau Gasol era.
03/09/10 vs. Toronto* - Kobe wins it at the buzzer... again for the SIXTH time this season. The game was ugly and the Lakers never seems to put together the right mix, but a win is a win... I guess.
03/12/10 @ Phoenix - Close, but the Lakers pull away late for their first road W since Feb. 23.
03/15/10 @ Golden State - The Dubs unorthodox style gives the Lakers fits, but they pull out a late W.
03/16/10 @ Sacramento - Another tough road win, but suddenly the Lakers have themselves a winning streak.
03/19/10 vs. Minnesota - Nothing to say except that the Lakers got a home W against the 2nd worst team. Oh wait, Andrew Bynum strains his Achilles, injuring himself for the 3rd year in a row. Early prognosis is that he's out for the duration of the Lakers 5-game road trip.
03/21/10 vs. Washington - The feast on the feeble continues.
03/24/10 @ San Antonio - The Lakers defense really steps up in the third quarter giving them an impressive road win. The winning streak hits 7, everyone is buzzing and then....
03/26/10 @ Oklahoma City - The Lakers get rolled by one of the hottest teams since All-Star break. However as Kevin Ding tweeted, "This was their Superbowl." OKC's franchise hasn't beaten the Lakers since November 2006. They needed to convince themselves they can hang with the champs. Still, it's disturbing how easily the Lakers rolled over.
03/27/10 @ Houston - Daryl Morey might be a statistical genius, but he sure hasn't figured out how to read medical charts. His injury-prone roster was... wait for it... injured as the Lakers rolled over the Rockets.
03/29/10 @ New Orleans - Lakers kept waiting to flip the switch, started a rally in the 3rd quarter but couldn't make a game of it as NOLA pulled away. Simply a bad loss to a team eliminated from the postseason.
03/31/10 @ Atlanta - In the Phil Jackson era the Lakers have split with the Hawks every year except 06-07, and that's against a slew of very terrible Hawks teams. Now the ATL are legit in the East so it really wasn't a surprise to see the Lakers lose a roadie here.
04/02/10 vs. Utah* - Finally home after a below average 2-3 road trip the Lakers easily beat the Jazz. Simply Utah doesn't match up well with the Lakers. They're not big enough or athletic enough to hang with the defending champs. And can we give Jerry Sloan the Coach of the Year Award!
04/04/10 vs. San Antonio* - I'll be honest, this was a tough loss to witness. Literally days ago the Lakers easily rolled the Spurs in San Antonio and then this... a bad home loss to the same team. The Spurs proved with wins at Boston, Orlando and LA that they're still a very good team. That said, the Lakers didn't capitalize on early momentum, shot poorly after the 1st quarter and were dominated. Worst loss since All-Star break.
So there you have it, 14-9 since All-Star break with 2 losses that I feel were terrible losses (San Antonio and New Orleans). The others are bad but not really surprising. Hey here's a shock for you, opposing teams get up when the defending champs toll into town. Like OKC it says a lot to be able to defeat the Lakers with the playoffs just around the corner.
Now don't get me wrong, the Lakers were shooting for a 60-win season and it looks like they'll fall short. But in the end they're still exactly where they were last season, the number 1 seed in the west with the second best record overall. Sure they had their fair share of tough losses and there is a worry about Bynum's health, the poor perimeter shooting, the extra dependency on Kobe offensively and the bench... but all teams not named Cleveland have flaws. And for a flawed team to be sitting on 58 to 60 wins with a 1-seed, well that's not all too bad.
The Lakers are definitely caught up in the dog days of a log regular season, waiting to wake up. They won't be first-round fodder to an 8 seed like many "experts" will predict, they're just bored.
Bring on the playoffs!