With much anticipation, the much heralded Los Angeles Lakers face the dreaded and hated Boston Celtics. Boston is currently on a 12-game winning streak, again silencing critics of their early and premature demise. LA is heading into this confrontation riding on a 4-0 road trip which concludes on Sunday in Cleveland. (another blog about this later.) Both teams appear to be peaking nicely heading into this match-up, although LA will be without the services of 7’0″ center, Andrew Bynum. So again, the Lakers will line-up with the exact same line-up from last season’s NBA Finals. Conventional wisdom says that the Lakers are a year older and wiser, but my fear is that they may still be intimidated by the Celtics. Let’s face it, we don’t have a Shaq, or a Rambis, or even a Cooper out there sticking a finger back into their faces, let alone barking back at Kevin Garnett.
Are we soft? Can we change? Are we ready? Unfortunately, yes, the Lakers are soft. But so was Kareem at one time. Enough so, that the Celtic faithful used to call him Kareem-Puff. But Kareem changed, dramatically. Was it Magic Johnson that got him to change his personality into a fierce warrior rather than the aloof, casual, prolific scorer that he had been saddled with for his entire career. Or was it the Celtics that finally brought it out of him? One could say that constantly losing to the same opponent either makes you stronger or tears you down. I believe the current Lakers need to feel the pain again, of being man-handled by the still dominant Celtics team in order to fully grasp what it takes to wear the crown. No one is anointed the champs, you have to earn it through dedication, sacrifice and smarts. Sure, skill and mastery of one’s craft play a huge role as does luck, but perseverance along with determination will always push you over the hump.
Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, and to a certain degree, Pau Gasol all ride on the coattails of Kobe Bryant. In order for the Lakers to push through, each of these players must insert their own will and footprint onto the game. Not just follow what Kobe does and defer to him. Don’t get me wrong, Kobe is the man, no question. There is no other player in the planet that I would rather have the ball with a few seconds left in a close game. Not Bird, not Magic, not Jordan. His degree of difficulty far surpasses any of the aforementioned greats. And he consistently delivers. But as Kobe delivers time and again, the others on the team have a tendency to disappear. Each must bring his own identity to the team. This means not only being the facilitator of the offense, (Luke), or the consistently inconsistent all-around player (Lamar). It means stepping up, taking ownership within the team and bringing something when the stakes are at their highest.
dEDGE Post Scriptum
Veterans are often noted for their wisdom and playoff experience. To an outsider, Rick Fox was a hack and a wannabe. But he brought a warrior attitude that said, “No, I’m not gonna take it anymore.” And that became infectious. I don’t see that aggression on the current Lakers squad. I see a team concerned more with statistics and highlight plays than grit and determination. Will it be enough to win a championship? I doubt it, unless the transformation happens soon, like tonight. I hope the Lakers are ready come game time, not with false bravado and a sense of entitlement, but one of grit and determination. How they play tonight will greatly reflect if anything was gained from last season’s loss. One night can make or break this team, and in this case I silently hope for a loss to reinforce the lessons that need to be learned in order to become a champion. Then take it out on the Cavs…