Lakers shouldn't see early playoff adversities as lessons
Considering each run to a championship a journey, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson has compared that process to a school year.
The season proves just as long. There are plenty of ups and downs. And there are plenty of teachable moments.
"It's a process that for me I've had great fortune in looking at seasons as something of a long haul where it's going to be an eight-month or seven-and-a-half month project," Jackson said before the 2010-2011 season started. "But in reality, you still have to give import to this opening game or this next game next week or this preseason game."
It's a tough balancing act between ensuring that team members strategically pace themselves without mailing in performances, and ensuring that they play sharp basketball without burning out. The most telling example is the San Antonio Spurs, who looked mostly sharp throughout the season en route to a Western Conference-leading 61-21 record, only to lose a six-game first-round playoff series to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Lakers guard Derek Fisher once argued that the team needs challenges and adversities because that allows for "true growth." That's fair enough, but save those lessons for the regular season.
"The New Orleans series made it more difficult than we expected, and it got us ready for this series [against Dallas] because we're not too comfortable or overly confident," Lakers forward Pau Gasol said. "We were on our toes. We don't want to start the series the way we did against New Orleans."
Surely, they don't, but why does it take a wake-up call for the Lakers to realize that. Going through three consecutive NBA Finals and two back-to-back titles, the Lakers frankly don't need to learn any more postseason lessons. They just need to execute properly.
Sure, there were tactical adjustments, such as defending the pick-and-roll against Chris Paul, or Kobe Bryant figuring out once again how to play with a sprained left ankle. But the Lakers shouldn't have required losing a game for the front line to suddenly play more aggressive, the team to be more attentive on defense and the overall effort to elevate. The true value of winning the first-round series would've been to end it as quickly as possible so that Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Matt Barnes could rest and treat their injured knees as long as possible.
As much as the Lakers argue that they were fortunate to play Oklahoma City in the first round last year because it helped wake them up, they actually benefited more from playing Utah in the semifinals. The Jazz's lack of size advantage, including an injured Andrei Kirilenko, helped the Lakers sweep Utah and gave them a week off to practice and rest Bryant and Bynum before playing against Phoenix in the Western Conference finals. The trickle-down effect from the Lakers getting as much rest and treatment as possible before the grueling series against Boston couldn't be overstated.
Likewise, the Lakers are surely happy to have three days before their contest with Dallas to get the rest and treatment. But with Jackson saying that Bryant's ankle has shown limited improvement, the team would've been better off ending the series against New Orleans more quickly than looking for some teachable moment in a tough series.
The Lakers have been down this path too many times and have run out of lessons to learn. It's now time not to leave anything to chance.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: The Lakers overcome a 13-point third-quarter deficit to beat the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times