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Mark Heisler ON THE NBA

New Lakers generation can relate

June 14, 2008|Mark Heisler

On the bright side, we just hatched an entire generation that now understands what it means to be a Lakers fan.

It had been 24 years since the Lakers took a fall that was anything like Thursday night's.

After the Lakers' debacle in the 1984 Finals, which even Boston's Larry Bird said they should have won, the Lakers had started a star-studded new tradition with six titles and nine Finals appearances, not to mention all the sub-plots.

No young Lakers fan could understand the suffering that tradition was built on . . . the six Finals losses to the Celtics in the '60s that still haunt Jerry West . . . who inspired Pat Riley, the Lakers' Captain Ahab, whose world seemed to crumble in the 1984 Finals loss after leading in the last minutes of Games 1 through 4 . . . after which Magic Johnson went home and shut himself in for weeks.

At least, no young fan could understand it until Thursday when their younger, deeper Lakers blew a 24-point lead over the older but demonstrably tougher Celtics.

That quickly the 2008 Finals went from about to be tied, 2-2, to 3-1 and about over.

Today every Lakers fan is Jerry West.

Throughout Lakerdom, there must be myriad reactions.

This isn't over!

It's definitely true even if few are actually enthusiastic about their chances, other than Coach Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant and AM 570's Vic "the Brick" Jacobs.

Fortunately, Vic was in the interview room after Game 4 in full purple-and-gold regalia to cheer up Kobe, leading to this memorable exchange:

Kobe (laughing): "I know you're the one person in this room who'll say something positive."

Vic: "Forty-eight minutes left, man, 48 minutes! Every game is unique and singular in its own way, you know that."

Just showing up under those circumstances was a unique and singular act of courage . . . by Vic, I mean. Kobe can do that stuff standing on his head.

Gee, I never understood what the Lakers went through.

In the good news, you're not really Jerry West and may be able to go on with the rest of your life, anyway.

Thanks for the history lesson but who needed it?

I assume that covers the other 98% of you.

Friday, the morning after, Jackson conceded that his players weren't feeling their very best, or as he put it in the locker room after Game 4, "I just told them as a team, they had their heart ripped out.

"It's tough to recover from that, but they will. This thing is not over and we want to force the action, want to continue to force the play."

Jackson, of course, makes Vic "the Brick" look like a prophet of doom. In Jackson's world, you can have your heart torn out Thursday and be perfectly fine by Sunday.

With everyone expecting Jackson to show some effect of the loss, he turned up in a brightly colored sport shirt and a light-hearted mood, looking no more concerned than if his team had blown a five-point lead in Cleveland in February.

This can be explained in two words: That's Phil.

One of the best things about Jackson, even in the most dire circumstances -- such as these -- is that he always looks as if he has got it covered. So if you're playing for him and he isn't worried, why should you be?

Now Jackson's team is down, 3-1, with local talk-show hosts demanding that he be staked out on an anthill until he promises to never take out Lamar Odom or Derek Fisher again.

So what's the problem?

Unfortunately for the Lakers, they'll need more than his faith in them or they'd have done better in this series, not to mention the last two seasons, wouldn't they?

The real problem in Game 4 was that before the Celtics ripped the Lakers' hearts out, so many had already shriveled up. All of Boston's age and experience add up to a hunger the Lakers may not be able to match or a toughness the Lakers may not have.

Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, who are all 30-something, played a combined 35 seasons before ever playing in the Finals.

Maybe that helps explain why Garnett who missed 41 of 60 shots from halftime of Game 1 to halftime of Game 4, came out to play in the second half, slump or no slump, 18-point deficit or no 18-point deficit, and turned back into Kevin Garnett.

This series really isn't over. On the other hand, the young Lakers have only one more chance to find something within themselves they haven't found yet.

--

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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