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Mark Heisler ON THE NBA

Call these Lakers version 2-1

May 11, 2008|Mark Heisler

SALT LAKE CITY -- Wow, so this is what the playoffs are like!

It had been so long since the Lakers lost a game -- a month and a day, since April 8 in Portland -- losing didn't even seem to be one of the possible outcomes.

The last loss before April 8 had been 11 days before, at home to Memphis, which must have been in some other lifetime.

Indeed, on March 28, Kobe Bryant, who'd been increasingly edgy with Pau Gasol out, went for 53 points in a 114-111 loss to the Grizzlies, later acknowledging he came out firing because he was upset at teammates for losing the previous game to Charlotte.

So before Friday's loss to the Jazz in Game 3, the Lakers had won their previous 10 games and 14 of 15.

This coincided almost perfectly with Gasol's return from an ankle injury, bringing them into Friday's game 28-5 with him in the lineup -- a 70-win pace projected over a season.

So you're looking at one of the great teams in NBA history?

Well, not really.

Actually, this could turn out to be the Lakers' junior varsity compared to next season's team.

On the other hand, this team hasn't done anything yet and next season's doesn't even exist yet, so we'd better take this one step at a time.

With all the euphoria in Lakerdom -- starting with the joy at finding out the franchise wasn't actually going to disappear forever like Atlantis -- it has been impossible to get a fix on who this team is.

There was Lakers 1.0, the Andrew Bynum version, which got off to a 24-11 start.

Then there was Lakers 2.0, without Bynum, which went 3-5, losing four of its last five, looking as if it could even miss the playoffs in the wild West.

Then came Lakers 3.0 with Gasol, starting with the 16-2 run that began the night they made the trade with Memphis and a jubilant Bryant put on a highlight show in Toronto.

We never got to Lakers 4.0, the deluxe version with Gasol and Bynum, apparently set for release next fall (consult this summer's season-ticket renewal to see how much you'll have to pay for the upgrade).

In the meantime, because the Lakers having nothing else to do, they may as well try to win a championship with version 3.0. This would be like Apple doing land office business with its iPhone at $400 a pop while waiting a year to put out one with state-of-the-art 3G technology.

(My thanks to Miss Emily Heisler for keeping me up with modern trends in communications and necessary tools for secondary school education.)

When the playoffs started, the Boston Celtics looked far and away like the NBA's best team and the Lakers merely like one of the best teams in the West.

Of course, after that the Celtics were almost carried off on their shields in the first round, looking every bit their age against the athletic young Atlanta Hawks.

Meanwhile, the Lakers started 6-0, although you may have noticed the difference when they came here and fell to 6-1, with Gasol looking like a stork dropped into a cement mixer.

This just in: For all Gasol's skill, he was never a physical player and getting traded to the Lakers hasn't changed that fact.

Happily for the Lakers, they have that problem solved.

Unhappily for the Lakers, the solution -- Bynum, who's a real center, rather than a tall skinny guy you can put at center -- won't be back this season.

After the Lakers were outrebounded by 17 in Game 1 of this series, Bryant was asked if it was the first time they missed Bynum.

"We've missed Andrew the whole time," Bryant said.

"A lot of times guys can get penetration against us. . . . Guys like AI and 'Melo get to the basket," he said of Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony of Denver, the Lakers' first-round opponent.

"With Andrew back there, that cancels all that stuff.

"If we did have Andrew back in this particular series, [the Jazz] wouldn't be getting all those easy points in the paint," Bryant said Saturday.

"He's a legitimate, 7-1, long-wing-span, natural shot blocker, so add Andrew, it takes us to another level defensively.

"I'm excited as we all are to get him back in the mix. It probably won't be this year, but next year you add him, you add Trevor [Ariza] to that mix, it's going to be a hell of a team."

Of course, that and $2.70 will get you a tall latte now.

Before Bynum sets foot on the floor again, the NBA will be awarding a championship trophy and the Lakers have their hearts set on this one too.

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mark.heisler@latimes.com

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