FROM HOUSTON — The way this is going I'm going to have to ask the question again, although I already know the answer: THIS IS EMBARRASSING.
Only the underachieving, disappointing Lakers could make Luis Scola look like Larry Bird. The guy goes into the Hall of Fame if he gets to play against Pau Gasol more often.
Yo, Trevor Ariza, they've started the game.
Maybe he thinks the Rockets need a handicap, like I'll give you two strokes a side -- the last two games Ariza turning the ball back over to Houston at the start to even things out.
The Rockets don't have two of their best players, and yet it's Phil Jackson who can't get the best team in the West cranked up to advance to the next round.
Defense has been a consistent Lakers' deficiency and yet the guy with the nine rings doesn't appear as if he's noticed.
Seven games against the Rockets?
Oh, that's right, the Lakers came here a few days ago and won back the home-court advantage, so mission accomplished in Houston. I guess his players got the message, "as long as we have the home-court advantage, we're all right."
NBA champions? Are you kidding me?
Maybe Andrew Bynum shows up for the NBA Finals after buying a ticket.
The first half just ended, the team that lost the last game by 40 now up by 16, Bynum contributing zero points in 11 minutes and 20 seconds. He goes on to play a total of 19 minutes and scores as many as Yao Ming.
Have I mentioned Derek Fisher? Why bother?
No one has ever said Lamar Odom has what it takes to carry the Lakers on his back, and sore as it is now, he's certainly not about to start. One shot and one miss in more than 14 minutes, though, is a back-breaker.
OK, so these are the Lakers, and those are the Rockets -- so you just know the Lakers will come back, right?
NBA Commissioner David Stern is here, as good a reminder as the referees need that this season is supposed to end with Kobe and LeBron matched against each other.
But even the officials are off to a slow start. They tag Kobe with a phantom technical foul, and while Jeff Van Gundy goes crazy on TV talking about the point it cost the Lakers, if these guys are championship worthy -- referees included -- they all come back in the second half to make things right.
The Lakers begin the third quarter on a 16-2 run, because suddenly they care. I wonder if you do, too, or if you're just waiting for Sunday -- apparently like Jackson.
"Nothing to worry about," he says later, "we play differently on our home court."
Apparently they show up.
Now I can't say I'm jealous of you folks, but I'm a little curious.
I understand why the Lakers dominate L.A., the Dodgers, Clippers and Kings doing their best annually to offer little competition, but do you people really like them?
I love the great plays a great player such as Kobe makes, but too often his companions just skate along, which invites criticism.
And yet most of the e-mail begins the same, "Why don't you like the Lakers?"
What's to like?
Do you really find Kobe embraceable? Is he embraceable like Magic Johnson or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?
Jeanie Buss finds Jackson embraceable, but just wondering, do you like Phil Jackson? Do you know Phil Jackson? Will you feel anything for him when he leaves town?
Joe Torre shows up in town, and five minutes later he's as likable as Mike Scioscia. Neither one of them has a condescending bone in their bodies.
The other night TNT's Kenny Smith says the Lakers are arrogant, which is interesting, because what have they really done?
Now it's ESPN's Mark Jackson, a former NBA player, saying he's had it with the Lakers because they don't always show up. And you people like these guys?
Maybe it's just enough to be employed by the Lakers, like Barry Bonds was employed by the Giants, everyone rooting for the uniform. Do you think Giants' fans found Bonds likable?
Much of it might very well be Kobe's fault, who is really the only one who always delivers. Tim Keown, writing brilliantly this week for espn.com about the "dismissive face" Kobe "makes after nearly every basket," asks the question I continually ask: "How can a guy with that much talent play with such little joy?"
The classy way Shane Battier conducts himself did Kobe's image no favor at the start of this series. It's not surprising, knowing the emphasis Kobe puts on his image, he knocked off the hot dog routine.
"It's sad, maybe, but Kobe will never be appreciated in a manner commensurate with his ability," writes Keown. "He's in the process of turning himself into an antihero . . . He has to accentuate everything with the facial expressions and the dismissiveness. It's not enough for him to beat someone; he feels compelled to belittle that person in the process."
Too often the cameras catch him swearing after scoring a basket. Why someone has to cuss after being successful is baffling.
"In the playoffs," writes Keown, "his performances generally follow one of two themes: (1) He takes over the game and taunts everybody in sight, demanding that all acknowledge his greatness or (2) he steps back and intentionally doesn't take over a game, in which case his attitude seems to be, 'See what they look like without me?' Either way, it's a tough act to embrace."
Some Lakers fans will be as dismissive as their hero and consider all this Kobe hating, but he sets the tone, and there's something that's just not right here.
And here I am asking the question again after the Lakers fail to show for a playoff game: "Is this embarrassing?" and it's Jackson who is dismissive. "Go on, next question," he says.
OK, so no way they lose Sunday, and all will be well in the Lakers' world again. But if not -- then we'll see how much you really like the Lakers.