2011 NBA Playoffs: Lakers Fall to Dirk, Mavs Again; Painfully Soft

| by Alex Groberman

Maybe it’s too early to eulogize the Los Angeles Lakers. It really doesn’t feel like it, though. Wednesday night’s 93-81 loss to the Dallas Mavericks served as the perfect microcosm of L.A.’s year in some ways. They were sloppy, lackadaisical and outclassed by a team that wanted the victory more.

All season long the Lakers have been credited with being arrogant in defeat. They were cocky and lost games that they should have won because they didn’t care about the regular season, or the first round of the playoffs, or the first game of the second round of the playoffs we were told. But in reality, perhaps the Lakers lost all those games this year because they just weren’t good enough to win them.

It’s possible that Kobe Bryant’s slow decline coupled with the little tinkering of the roster that the team did to “bolster” the bench -- which everyone mistakenly believed made them better -- was a recipe for the humble pie we're all eating now.

A quick glance at the Game 2 production of Steve Blake and Matt Barnes reaffirms the fact that the pair is almost completely worthless. In every possible way. There was no facet of the game whatsoever where they excelled, offensively or defensively. On the day, their combined stat line read: 0 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists.

Contrasting that with J.J. Barea dropping 12 points all by himself -- en route to 30 total points for the Dallas bench -- tells you everything you need to know about the battle of depth.

Now the two-time defending champions are in a 0-2 hole against a surprisingly spry Mavericks group, and frankly, they don’t appear tough enough mentally or physically to be able to crawl their way out.

That’s right, the so-called “soft” Dallas team led by a 7-foot Euro in Dirk Nowitzki whose postseason claim to fame prior to this series was getting his manhood ripped away from him by the Miami Heat in 2006, is terrorizing Los Angeles. A little point guard in Barea, who looks like he isn’t tall enough to go on most of the rides at Disneyland, is bobbing-and-weaving his way through the lane like he’s running practice drills against the JV squad. Even Jason Kidd, freshly removed from whatever crypt Mark Cuban had been keeping him in, managed to contribute 10 points. Shawn Marion. Tyson Chandler. DeShawn Stevenson.

These are the guys beating up Bryant, Pau Gasol and Phil Jackson.

And the worst part is, while the Mavs only appear to be getting stronger quarter after quarter, game after game -- the Lakers are coming apart at the seams.

Angry and bitter over his team embarrassing themselves twice at home, Lakers forward Ron Artest reverted to Malice in the Palace form and clotheslined Barea with less than a minute remaining in the game. The idiotic move -- by anyone’s standards -- may be enough to earn him a suspension for Game 3. So much for NBA’s model citizen having turned over a new leaf.

If that wasn’t enough, Andrew Bynum came unraveled during the postgame interviews in the locker room, telling reporters that there was a lack of trust between the Lakers players. So, on top of all of the on-the-court drama L.A. will deal with as they go into Dallas and attempt to regain at least some semblance of control over this series, they now have off-the-court issues as well.

Which begs the question: where does Kobe and Co. go from here?

For one thing, they need to sit down the guy in the Gasol costume and find out what happened to the real Pau. The Spaniard’s empty 13 and 10 line in Game 2 was just the latest in a long line of meaningless stats that he has accumulated over the course of the 2011 postseason.

The player who once upon a time was just as responsible for the last two Lakers titles as Kobe, has lost his way. He’s softer, weaker and more ineffective than he’s ever been in his career. And the strange part is, there is seemingly no cause. All of a sudden, a switch flipped, and Gasol just kind of flickered out. L.A. cannot win this series unless Gasol magically reverts to old form.

Two, Bryant, understanding that his legacy is on the line, needs to find a way around the physical limitations he’s facing at this point in his career. He’s old, we get it. With age, though, you would think that these 20-shots-for-23-points games would become a bit less frequent. He needs to utilize that experience and savvy of his in a way that will maximize the potential of the other players on the court, all the while saving his energy for the end of the game when he needs to take over -- which he hasn't done a single time thus far.

Third, Bynum needs to get help on both sides of the court. A case could be made that Bynum was the team’s best player in Game 2, putting up 18 points and 13 rebounds all the while banging in the paint against every big man that the Mavs threw his way. For a team with a supposed size advantage over everyone else in the NBA, the Lakers sure don’t look it. Bynum is the only Laker big actually playing up to his stature, and the wear and tear of being the only guy playing hard in the paint is clearly getting to him mentally.

Finally, Barnes, Blake and the rest of the bench need to come alive. They need to provide the necessary spark for the Lakers offensively when they come in, and at the very least, annoy the opposing players defensively until the rest of the starters are ready to get back into the game.

So, in summation: the Lakers need a therapist to snap Gasol out of his funk, teach the 32-year-old Bryant to alter his game entirely, develop the same fire and intensity that Bynum showcased in Game 2 and give mouth-to-mouth to their seemingly dead bench.

It sounds all but impossible.

"We are capable of doing what everyone deemed impossible," Bynum said after the game.

Don't get too excited. He's probably referring to the fact that everyone said that the Mavs beating the Lakers this year was impossible.

Is it too late to get Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton and Marc Gasol back?