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Lakers Need to Win the Bore War

January 27, 2002|Mark Heisler

Courtside, the season drones on.

Honey, order me the duck l'orange. OK, Mike, I'll tell Steven, breakfast at John O'Groats. He's right down the row. ... Sorry, I'm at the Laker game, reception's terrible in here. ... Denver. ... Well, we had the tickets, they're $1,250 per, we thought we may as well use 'em. ... No, I think they're losing, actually.

It's peaceful in the Big Office Supply Store, which may or may not be the world's greatest arena but is surely the world's quietest, except, of course, when the Clippers are at home.

I'm not going to do a lot of stereotypes about cell phones, designer water, etc., even if a Laker crowd's aggregate income is bigger than the gross domestic product of a small country, because this isn't an L.A. thing, simply an L.A. variant.

Boredom is a problem for dynasts, real and presumed. Even in Chicago, where the attitude seemed to be, "What else do we have to live for?" Bull fans came to sit serenely for months, awaiting the real deal.

Of course, it's not good if the team nods off too, as the Lakers did after starting 16-1.

"We were accused of being boring the first 20 games," Rick Fox said last week, laughing. "We've created some interest here, due to our lack of play."

Try 13-10 since, with losses to all four last-place teams and one to the lowly Denver Nuggets, allowing 106 points per no-show. The Laker defensive average is 92.6.

Forget such voodoo terms as "execution" and "rhythm." How about "can't always be bothered to defend"?

Not that this should be a surprise. Last season's Lakers did what no team is supposed to be able to, they threw a switch on April 1 and became invincible.

Now they're much better, Kobe Bryant is part of the team and, to all appearances, finally cool with Shaquille O'Neal.

"Before they stood off and the cat hissed at the dog from 50 yards away and the dog kind of messed around with the cat a little to make him hiss," Coach Phil Jackson recently told the Chicago Tribune's Sam Smith. "Now the cat is playing with the dog. ...

"It's delightful to see. It's almost to a point now where they like one another too much and they want to play with one another ... and it almost takes the rest of the team out of the game."

Detroit personnel director John Hammond called the Lakers "almost invincible," something you don't hear very often.

What could go wrong now?

1. The Lakers think they can throw their switch again.

They deny it, but it's human nature. So much for fear, which is a potent driving force for the other teams.

"The challenge was to get off to a good start," Fox said. "Then after we get off to the good start, it's like, OK, where's the challenge?"

Staying awake?

2. Chemistry.

The Nos. 3-12 guys all play, vie for and, apparently, talk about their minutes and shots, which is what you get with depth, recently so negligible.

Lindsey Hunter was an emergency replacement for Derek Fisher, who's now well, leaving mirror-image guards, lefty and righty, to split minutes. Mitch Richmond was going to be the sixth man, but before he grasped the triangle, Devean George grasped his minutes, dropping Mitch to the 10th man.

"It's very set in the sense that we know we win with Kobe and Shaq, but where does everybody else fall in?" Fox says.

"We had better chemistry as a basketball team on the floor than we do now. We have less problems off the floor than we did last year."

3. Shaq's head, big toe, trials and growing disdain for the long grind.

He has been vowing privately not to take any more abuse, when he has no choice but to take it, learn to play on the perimeter or retire.

"It can't be fun for him," Jackson says. "I mean, what fun is there when three guys are jumping on your back when you catch the ball in the lane to start taking a shot? Where's the basketball play? What is that all about?"

Then there's O'Neal's toe, although by Friday he was using a larger shoe and romping among the San Antonio Spurs like a lion among antelope. His reps, Perry Rogers and Mike Parris, said they had a "team in place" to treat the Big Piggie.

Starting the weekend, the standings had the Lakers in a tie for No.3 in the Western Conference, but that's probably only a misunderstanding.

Go back to your lives. We'll call you if they need you.


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