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T.J. SIMERS

Lakers making it look effortless

Defending champions don't give their all until the playoffs, which makes regular season more like an exhibition.

February 06, 2010|T.J. Simers

It's February and I haven't gone to a Lakers game yet because I've been waiting for the exhibition season to end.

If the Lakers aren't going to give it their all, why should anyone else?

The '95-96 Bulls won 72 games, and this season began with some folks wondering if the Lakers might do better. That's pretty funny upon reflection.

They lost the second game of the season by 14 -- at home.

They lost to the Nuggets, playing without Carmelo Anthony -- at home.

Come on, how can anyone expect today's pro athlete to go all out all the time?

If the Lakers did that, they would be undefeated, no one else in basketball coming even close to matching the Lakers' star-studded roster with players like Kobe, Pau, Lamar, Artest, Bynum -- as well as employing the top coach in the sport.

And yet by the time the Lakers had played 44 games, they had 11 losses and no chance of winning more than 72. Oh well, greatness probably should belong to those really intent on being great.

They inexplicably lost to the Clippers by 11, but then motivated to make amends, they gave it their all nine days later to win by 40.

They are so good they can do as they please, which makes every loss so confounding.

But then what's the incentive for talent showing up every game if it already knows the season doesn't begin until the first round of the playoffs?

The Lakers will have the home-court advantage in the West throughout the playoffs; they knew that before the season began.

Are they any different from the Indianapolis Colts, throwing away an undefeated season to save

themselves for a Super Bowl run?

To the players, a ring is everything. To the customers, every game on the way to winning a ring means something -- almost a house payment in ticket, parking and concession prices alone.

To the media, there is no end to the fans' fascination with the Lakers, and so therefore every word, voice inflection and loss is reason to overreact -- the dirty secret being that everyone knows none of it really matters until April.

Lakers fans need drama to justify their obsessive devotion for a team seemingly intent on pacing itself as it earns its millions.

Last week, John Ireland was on 710 pumping up Lakers coverage, saying Phil Jackson believes the next five games will make or break the Lakers' season.

Say what? They lose all five, they win all five, and they are still prohibitive favorites to advance to the NBA Finals. The next five games will have no impact on the Lakers whatsoever unless Kobe announces his retirement after one of them.

And yet every week it's something, as if it really matters. Jackson is sticking with Derek Fisher, Kirk Hinrich is a candidate to replace Fisher, Jordan Farmar isn't the answer. Bynum is going to be really good, Bynum is really disappointing. Ron Artest is fitting in, Ron Artest isn't shooting well, and oh no, Lamar married a Kardashian.

Two regular-season losses to Cleveland mean about as much as two regular-season losses to Orlando a year ago.

This is exhibition basketball, the perfect setting for Kobe, the Lakers' needing two points to tie, so Kobe will shoot an off-balance three to try to win. When is the last time he went for the two-point tie?

Should Kobe's shot just miss, oh well, it's not as if it's going to have any impact on the Lakers' place in the standings.

It's high school all over again, if Jackson is to be believed, once suggesting that Kobe allowed the opposition to hang around in the fourth quarter just so he might get the chance to toss in the winning shot.

If it really doesn't matter who wins or loses, and the Lakers know they are already playoff-bound, then the thrill for great competitors is much like a father giving his son nine points and playing to 10.

Competitors need competition, and much of the NBA can't provide it for the Lakers.

So why does a team with Kobe, Pau, Lamar, Bynum and Artest find itself caught in so many heart-pounding finishes? The Lakers are so good they have the talent to overwhelm, but how often does that happen?

Thirty exhibition games to go now, 13 at home, and what has been the biggest season surprise to date?

I would argue nothing but the Lakers' record, which has been nowhere as good as it could be. But does it really matter?

Like I said, it's just exhibition basketball.

MIKE DUNLEAVY did Donald Sterling's dirty work for him, a brilliant move in earning a reprieve and remaining as GM.

Now if he can find the right guy to replace himself as coach, he might still control the fate of the Clippers.

No way yet to know if the right guy is Kim Hughes.

I've been around Hughes for years and have never heard him say a thing. Not a single word.

I've always thought he looked like someone in serious need of a pep talk, but now he's the guy who is supposed to deliver them. Maybe he has just been saving himself for this moment.

I know this, if there is even a sliver of truth to rumors that the Clippers are interested in Isiah Thomas, it's time to lock the doors and disband the Clippers.

THIS SUPER Bowl is easy. The Colts 38, the Saints 24 and Chargers fans shut out again.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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