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MARK HEISLER

Lakers will see you on the flip side . . . or not

Yes, they're playing a lot better now, having gone 15-1 since the All-Star game and rising to No. 2 in the West. But it wasn't a case of merely 'flipping the switch' after the break. If it was that easy, they'd have done it weeks earlier.

March 27, 2011|Mark Heisler
  • Ron Artest knocks the ball away from New Orleans' Jarrett Jack during the Lakers' 102-84 victory Sunday night at Staples Center.
Ron Artest knocks the ball away from New Orleans' Jarrett Jack during… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

On the Lakers flipping their switch again. . . .

They wish.

If today's Lakers bear little resemblance to the ones who didn't beat any of the top teams until February, going 0-4 against the Heat, Spurs, Mavericks and Celtics . . . after trailing by 21, 19, 16 and 16, respectively . . . it's not because they flipped any switch.

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Believe this, if there was a switch, they'd have flipped it a long time ago.

Seven weeks after the Christmas embarrassment against Miami when Kobe Bryant vowed to kick teammates' backsides, they went into the All-Star break in an 0-3 spiral, capped by a barely-imaginable loss in Cleveland.

At that point, people weren't talking about switches.

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They were talking about Carmelo Anthony going to the Lakers . . . an idea believed to have originated among Lakers players, or the Laker player.

With Sunday's win over New Orleans, they're 15-1 since the break, with everyone back on the bandwagon, trying to look cool, as if they never left.

As for the players, who looked cool throughout the search for themselves . . . when not in rages, getting technicals or being ejected . . . they were scared, or as they like to put it, concerned, to the max.

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"Every season, you've never quite known for sure that you're going to end up where you want to be, until you were there," said Derek Fisher. "And that's where that emotion when the final buzzer goes off and you're the champions comes from.

"Because you've been literally hanging over the edge of the cliff for months on end."

There was a time when the Lakers were so good, they could flip a switch.

It was circa 2000 with Shaquille O'Neal and Bryant, who were so devastating together . . . assuming they were together . . . they could turn it on at will, and had to, since O'Neal wasn't a conditioning zealot.

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Now it's more like rubbing two sticks together to start a fire.

Even if it works, it takes a while.

Fortunately for the Lakers, they got this season's wake-up call on Christmas . . . followed by snooze alarms Dec. 28 (the Spurs rout), Jan. 19 (the loss in Dallas), Jan. 30 (the Celtics rout in Staples Center) and Feb. 16 (et tu, Cleveland?).

Of course, the Lakers are coming off two title runs.

Additionally, they're coached by Phil Jackson, the game's easiest riding coach, who lets his teams wander all over the landscape, assuming they make the playoffs.

In the amazing part, it has worked . . . to the tune of 13 Finals appearances, and 11 titles, in 20 seasons.

What Jackson believes is true: Players will be ready when it counts, even if they cut it thin, as in the 2009 postseason debacle against Houston.

Jackson got his perspective from his Knicks coach and mentor, Red Holzman.

Of course, it was so long ago and Red was such a loner, the only mentor people can come up with for Phil is Timothy Leary.

"I was always kind of branded as a person who was from the outside [who] didn't have a mentor," Jackson said.

"Red Holzman used to say, 'I have no connections. I have no influence in the NBA as a former coach.'

"Coming in, I wanted to do something different. I had to do something different because you can't do the same thing. So that's been kind of my philosophy."

It might burn out an ordinary man's nervous system but on him, it looks terrific.

So, they're the Lakers again. . . .

"You can draw up all kinds of tricky plays," said New Orleans Coach Monty Williams. "They can gamble on the perimeter, you can get to the basket and they've got nine feet [a 7-footer with his arms in the air] sitting there and waiting at the basket.

"And when they jump, that's 11 feet."

And when there are two of them — as there always are from the group of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom — that's 22 feet!

You see what everyone is up against, now that the Lakers are the Lakers again.

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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