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T.J. SIMERS

Lakers really know how to build the suspense

If they win all the time in the regular season, ho hum. Yes, they have weaknesses, but the one thing you can count on is that they will be in the NBA Finals.

January 31, 2011|T.J. Simers
  • Coach Phil Jackson gives directions to the Lakers during Sunday's loss to the Celtics.
Coach Phil Jackson gives directions to the Lakers during Sunday's… (Alex Gallardo / Reuters )

It's kind of funny in a pathetic way, everyone getting all upset and concerned about the Lakers.

Happens every year.

Most of the concerns are legitimate, the ball hog making another appearance in front of the national TV cameras and we know how that goes.

Ron Artest was a dud much of last season, hits a big shot to make him a hero, but so far he's pretty much a dud again. I guess everybody has to hope the NBA Finals go seven games deep so Artest can find redemption one more time.

So far Andrew Bynum just takes up space. So does the car with the dead battery in most people's garages.

Derek Fisher still plays for the Lakers. Sometimes I forget too.

Pau Gasol recoils at the suggestion he's soft, so how come you can get the feeling he's sitting in the third row of the stands while the Lakers play on?

That's the Lakers for you, so many weaknesses it's hard to keep tabs. About the only thing you can count on every year is they will be in the NBA Finals.

I guess that makes the Lakers the greatest comeback story of the year — every year.

The beauty of it all — it gets us through the winter. If the Lakers were winning all the time, ho hum.

Mix in a little doubt and the season becomes so much more interesting. That's why the media turned out en masse Monday, no different from most of you wanting to know if the Lakers are now goners.

I thought of mentioning the fact the Lakers lost seven of their final 11 games last season before winning it all. But I played along because I needed a column, and a follow-up on the NHL All-Star game was second choice.

TV's Jim Hill began the questioning with Phil Jackson because Jackson likes to be on TV. Hill asked something about the Bulls and Lakers, and Jackson said, "No, there's no similarities.''

I began to ask the next question, but Jackson said, "Hold it, Jim's not through." I'm telling you, Jackson just loves being on TV. I wouldn't be surprised to see him on "Survivor" next season.

Hill asked something about a light switch never being turned on, and what that has to do with sports, I have no idea. Keep in mind Hill played football for the Packers in a time when they would continue playing with a concussion.

You can understand why Jackson allowed me to ask the next question.

"Did your two big guys take themselves out of Sunday's game, did Boston take them out or did Kobe take them out of the game in the fourth quarter?" I asked, while adding, "That's a good question."

"Hmmm, I don't know," said Jackson, who gets paid something like $12 million a year to have all the answers. "I'll get back to you on that one."

It took a few minutes, but I got Jackson's attention again. I told him he'll probably be going to Montana while forgetting to ever get back to me. So how about it?

"Kobe ended up taking it on his shoulders to beat the team," Jackson said, and we all saw that.

"Do you like that?" I asked.

"There are times it works and times it didn't," he said, and we all know that. "Yesterday it didn't work out. Our big guys didn't step in and demand the ball and weren't aggressive about it."

I checked with Gasol. "What happens if you go up to Kobe and tell him to get the ball inside?"

"Um, yeah, it's definitely doable," Gasol said.

"Has it happened?"

"No, it's not happened," he said.

"You bashful?"

"No, just trying to do the right thing," he said, and I'm guessing someone told him what happened to the last big guy in town who wanted Kobe to get the ball inside more.

"We have to figure it out as a coaching staff and as a team," Gasol said. "Not as individuals. It's something we have to talk about."

Sounds like an intervention, the entire team maybe meeting with Kobe.

"It's important we find a way to get more players involved and more players being productive if we want to be successful," Gasol said. "It's been proven we're more successful when that happens."

Don't tell me, tell Kobe.

But that's another great thing about the Lakers, and what makes their pre-playoff journeys so interesting. By now everyone knows you have to tiptoe around Kobe when it comes to saying anything about his shooting too much.

When Jackson said he would have liked to have seen more players involved in the offense over the last seven minutes against Boston, I asked, "Is that criticism of Kobe?"

"No, it's not," said Jackson.

"Are you being careful?" I asked.

"Of course I'm being careful. Why wouldn't I?"

"Can't you criticize Kobe, or suggest doing things differently?"

"He'll work on it," Jackson said. "We'll talk…. When we see Boston next, we'll talk about it."

That's almost 10 days from now, so in the meantime I asked for Phil's philosophy when it comes to Kobe at the end of games.

"Make the plays," he said.

"So if he doesn't make the plays, it's not good?"

"Right," said Jackson. "You got to make the plays at that time, that's the credibility you have if taking that kind of situation on."

Next time out, of course, the ball hog will pass the ball to everyone else and give them the chance to save the day. And when they fail, he'll take over again. It happens every year. It's what makes the Lakers' world turn.

And usually results in a happy ending.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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