Pleasures are both quick and fleeting. They should be enjoyed whenever they present themselves. So when the Los Angeles Lakers succumbed to perennial playoff underachievers the Dallas Mavericks yesterday, I rejoiced. I loved. I laughed.
A sweep? How sweet!
The fabled and privileged Lakers repeatedly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the four-game series; blowing leads, orchestrating fourth-quarter collapses and finally, not even bothering.
Like the Bad Boy-era Pistons (who showed their true colors by petulantly stalking off the court when it became apparent the Chicago Bulls would sweep them in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals), these Lakers revealed their true selves by administering late-game cheap shots to the Mavericks—a team that had been wholly respectful of the Laker legacy.
The game was also an ironic send-off for coach Phil Jackson, he of the eleven championships.
I’ll admit to feeling a bit betrayed when Jackson signed on with the Lakers, abandoning the dynasty he had helped build in Chicago for the glamour of L.A. It reminded me a bit of Nicolas Cage, who chose the big paychecks of rote action flicks over the quirky dramas that brought him fame in the first place.
Jackson’s career has yet to be viewed through the corrective lens of time. But for now, I feel he was never really challenged as a coach. Sure, he deftly managed delicate superstar egos, and had the good sense to incorporate Tex Winter’s triangle offense.
But he assumed control of the pre-fabricated Jordan-era Bulls just as they were ready to soar, and did likewise with the Lakers in L.A. I have to think that even a modestly-talented coach could have stumbled into the NBA Finals with either team.
Lastly, the suddenly championship-caliber 2010-11 Chicago Bulls have encountered substantial difficulty in the post-season. First was the surprisingly taut series with the 37-win Indiana Pacers. Now the 2-2 draw with the Atlanta Hawks.
Like so much else, winning must be learned. Defense, consistency and focus are the keys—especially in the post-season. The Bulls had all three in spades during the regular season, which is how they won 62 games. But suddenly, the Bulls don’t seem to possess any of them.
Defense has been employed selectively. They appear unable to focus. They seem tentative, playing not to lose. The young Bulls are also afflicted with Jordan-itis, a malady which makes them succumb to the temptation of “Let Michael Do It.”
Or in this case, Derrick.
Granted, Derrick Rose is a gifted player. But whether it is his decision or by design, Rose is taking too many shots and attempting to shoulder too much of the load.
Rose is surrounded by complementary players who also happen to be quite talented. Rose is made even more-lethal when those around him touch the ball. Let them participate. When they move the ball and keep defenses honest, the Bulls win. Convincingly.
When Rose insists (or is forced) to be Michael Jordan at his pre-championship-era worst, they don’t.
Basketball is a simple game: get the ball to the guy with the best shot. Then stop the other guys from doing it. Do that for forty-eight minutes and you’ll win more games than you lose.
Maybe even a championship.