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TGS NBA UPDATE...SHOWDOWN TIME FOR THE LAKE SHOW
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor


Are the Lakers in trouble vs. Dallas?

You bet they are.

There is an interesting Phil Jackson playoff angle of which few Laker fans are aware or take time to acknowledge, and another reason why LA is suddenly in quicksand in this series vs. Dallas, a factor even beyond the current 0-2 deficit.

Unless the Lakers win the next three games of this series, there is a very good chance they will face a close-out game for the Mavericks AT DALLAS at some point in the series.

In similar scenarios as LA's head coach, on the road and the host team in a close-out situation, Phil Jackson is 0-4 since winning Game 7 in OT at Sacramento in the very controversial 2002 West Finals. Follow along...

Game 5, 2004 Finals at Detroit... The Lakers are down 3-1 to Detroit and are routed, 100-87, a game far more one-sided than the final score. The Lakers quit in the 3rd quarter of this game when the Pistons took complete control.

Game 7, 2006 First Round at Phoenix... After threatening a major upset in the first round, the Lakers completely fold in Game 7 at Phoenix, routed 121-90, a game in which Kobe Bryant's petulance was never more evident as he refused to shoot when the game began to slip away. An embarrassing performance.

Game 5, 2007 First Round at Phoenix... LA was outclassed in this series, so no real shame in losing Game 5 to the favored Suns. The Lakers were never really in this game, although they notched a narrow point-spread cover as a 10 1/2-point underdog in an eventual 119-110 loss (Jackson's only such cover in these close-out games for the host opponent). Certainly no special effort from the Lakers as the Suns handily close out the series.

Game 6, 2008 Finals at Boston... Laker fans have erased this one from their memory banks. To refresh them, the final was 131-92 Celtics, another quit job similar to 2004 vs. the Pistons and 2006 vs. the Suns.

In a related game, in Game 6 of 2003 West playoffs vs. San Antonio, the Lakers lost 110-82, another abject surrender, although that game was at home. To the Lakers' credit, they did avoid losing close-out games for the Celtics last season when winning Games 6 and 7 of the Finals at Staples Center, needing a lot of help from the refs in the last game. But the dynamics of last June's Boston series were a bit different; when the Celtics won, they were simply outexecuting the Lakers, not overwhelming them.

The bigger point is that when the Lakers have exited the playoffs under Jackson, they usually go out with a thud, and eventually surrendering without offering much of a fight. Is the same happening in the Dallas series?

Consider that the Lakers have usually been in control for most of their playoff series under Jackson. They have avoided being closed out a few times over the years when at home (besides Boston last year, Houston in 2009 comes to mind in a pure homecourt series), but they have never been able to dig deep enough on the road when facing a close-out game for the host. The collapses in most of those losses (plus the home loss to S.A. in 2003) are eerily similar, and might speak to something in the character of Jackson's teams. In the few times the Jackson Lakers teams, with their usual overwhelming talent edge, have looked overmatched, they have laid down their arms and surrendered meekly. We saw some of that in Game 2 vs. Dallas, especially the frustration illustrated by Ron Artest's ejection for the clothesline on J.J. Barea in the last minute. We must wonder if more might be on the way.

The Lakers have never rallied from an 0-2 deficit in the postseason under Jackson when losing the first two at home; it's only been done three times in NBA history. Jackson's Lakers did once rally from an 0-2 deficit, way back in the Shaq days of 2004 in the West semis vs. San Antonio, but in that series lost the first two to the Spurs on the road before winning four straight (one of those on a Derek Fisher miracle shot at the death of Game Five). This time vs. Dallas, LA has dropped the first two as host. The last time Jackson's LA was down 0-2 in a series was in the 2008 Finals vs. Boston, which the Celtics won in six games.

Mostly, it has been easy for the Lakers to dominate in recent seasons, or during Shaq's title years, with their overwhelming talent advantage. But the Jackson Laker teams, especially the 2004 and 2008 editions, often exhibited bully tendencies, and reacted accordingly when the walls began to close around them in the final games of the playoffs in those years.

Sources around the league have suggested from last fall that this Jackson edition is more vulnerable than the recent title winners. The brilliance of Kobe, Pau Gasol's effectiveness, and Lamar Odom's occasional bursts of explosiveness cannot camouflage all of the issues. Most of the key components on the team are on the far side of 30 years old. They're slower than past seasons. The Lakers are being exposed in this series because their reliable scoring options beyond Kobe and maybe Gasol are very erratic. The outside shooting has been suspect all season, the bench is not up to past strength, and the team generates very few transition buckets. Dallas is one of the few teams with the size to match the Lakers' bigs, and LA (like most teams) has no matchup for Dirk Nowitzki. This is a very deep Mavs team and obviously has no fear of the Lakers.

It hasn't happened often since Jackson arrived in the 1999-2000 season (remember, he was "retired" for the 2004-05 campaign when the Lake Show missed the playoffs under Rudy Tomjanovich and Frank Hamblen in the first season after Shaq's trade), but like a bully that is used to having its own way, Jackson's LA teams have always acted the same way when meeting their match. There is a big difference between how Dallas is dealing with the Lakers, and how Boston did a year ago. We have not seen a Jackson Lakers team look as out of sorts in a series since the 2004 Finals vs. Detroit, and we know how that one concluded.

Granted, the Mavericks will be the first to tell you that this series isn't over. They're saying all of the right things, such as Jason Kidd dismissing Charles Barkley's "the series is over" comments after Game Two. Which suggests that Dallas is unlikely to suffer from any sort of overconfidence as the series continues. But something has to change, and quickly, for the Lakers to get back in this series. There's a good chance Barkley is going to be proven correct after all.

Perhaps the Lakers dig in and rally back in this series. But history shows that in these rare circumstances, we should not be shocked if Jackson and the Lakers surrender.


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