Sprinting out of the starting gates, the Los Angeles Lakers slammed the door on the San Antonio Spurs 102-95, at the AT&T Center to conclude their 3-game road trip with 2-1 record. Showing a renewed vigor and no ill side effects from their debacle earlier in Portland to start the trip, the Lakers rushed out to a 35-17 first quarter lead and were never seriously threatened thereafter. The Spurs did cut into the lead in the second half and actually crawled to within 95-93 with 2:19 left to play on a Tony Parker trey, but the Lakers were able to thwart that challenge by hammering down on defense and by handing the ball off to none other than Kobe Bryant. Kobe hit a triple with George Hill inside of his jersey to extinguish any San Antonio hopes of a comeback. “I thought it was pretty good defense,” Hill said. “But it’s Kobe, and he makes great plays. I did the best I could to challenge him and try to push him back out. He’s deadly.”
With the win, the Lakers clinched the Pacific Division title, but more importantly, pushed the Western Conference’s second seeded Spurs further down from their lofty perch atop the NBA standings. Kobe and Pau Gasol both finished with 23 points with Pau adding 11 rebounds. Lamar Odom, back from his one game suspension, played an animated, although not quite proficient 36 minutes providing 12 points and 10 rebounds. Derek Fisher and Trevor Ariza rounded out the scoring by adding 10 points apiece. In all, it was an efficient showing by a Lakers team that seems to have found its edge again. The effort level was reminiscent of earlier games in which the team cruised to easy victories. There were momentary lapses from the bench, but everyone contributed to the team’s balanced scoring and 51% shooting, out-rebounding the Spurs 42-33, and forcing 16 turnovers. Tim Duncan was clearly outplayed by Pau scoring only 16 points and seemed unable to get past the swarming, suffocating Lakers defense. San Antonio was led by Parker and flashback Michael Finley, who both contributed 25 points. But it proved to be a case of too little, too late, as the Lakers stomped out victories on their Texas Two-some.
dEDGE Post Scriptum
Fire and desire. Practice and perfection. Skill and luck. These are the traits that an NBA team needs to achieve for a shot at the trophy. Unfortunately for the vast majority of teams, these remain unattainable goals. There’s a saying, “Winners will be winners and losers will always be losers.” That’s why as fans we don’t take any credence in serious conversations in regards to the Clippers, or the Warriors, or the Grizzlies. If you are a team that is fortunate enough to one day reach that higher plateau of elite teams, stake your claim and firmly implant yourself into that culture. You are now amongst the winners in the league. It is a very small group of teams that are always linked to vying for a championship and can never be counted out. The Spurs and the Lakers, newcomers such as New Orleans and Cleveland, and back in the fold again, Boston. But any deviance from this new found dedication and perseverance will instantly plummet you back down amongst the bottom dwellers of the league like Phoenix, Dallas and Sacramento in the West. And New York, New Jersey and Washington in the East. Simply momentarily bright flashes that briefly caught our attention and our interest.
You dedicate yourself to practice in the quest for razor sharp execution and ultimately perfection, only to have the ball bounce the other way, nullifying even a chance for you to compete. You grudgingly pick yourself up from the disappointment and rededicate yourself again to another off-season of training and practice just for the glimmer of hope for another shot at the crown. Multiply this dedication across the 12-man roster, the entire coaching staff, plus the auxiliary crew of trainers, audio & video, strength and conditioning, and even equipment managers, and the task becomes daunting if not impossible. But don’t waste the endless months of practice, the hundreds of hours of reviewing video to gain that slight edge against your opponent, or the countless miles that you ran to better condition your body. Stay a winner and practice winning ways. It’s never easy and it is always evolving. That’s why it requires dedication and hard work–work that losers are unwilling to or too lazy to subscribe. It’s so much easier to rest on one’s laurels, coast and pray for the best. But then you find yourself on the outside looking in–into a window that houses a plateau that you remember once occupying.