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MARK HEISLER / ON THE NBA

Lakers have usually gotten out of trouble

Things have changed quickly against the Mavericks, a team the Lakers have owned in recent seasons. Injuries, advancing age and a lack of hunger could make the difference.

May 05, 2011|Mark Heisler
  • Mavericks center Tyson Chandler reacts after dunking against Andrew Bynum and the Lakers during Game 2 on Wednesday night at Staples Center.
Mavericks center Tyson Chandler reacts after dunking against Andrew Bynum… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

Maybe they shouldn't have waited to let Phil Jackson bid farewell to Lakers fans?

Fittingly for a twilight of the local gods, The End creeps nearer on little Tyrannosaurus rex paws as the final days tick off Jackson's career ... with no assurance there will even be an NBA season in 2011-12.

Not that the Lakers haven't been in worse fixes than this.

In the 2008 Finals, the Celtics had them down, 3-1.

The Celtics ended it in Game 6 in Boston, burying them, 131-92.

Nevertheless, the Lakers have made one dramatic comeback after another in recent years — the problem being they were favored in every last one of those series beforehand.

So one way or another, this is what they do.

Phil Jackson to the end, the zaniest great coach in sports history noted Thursday he thought Andrew Bynum's "trust issue" was a "truss issue," like the one's Phil's father used to have.

"You know, I'd like to cry but I can't right now," said Jackson, asked how he could laugh at a time like this.

"It's a game, we know it's a game, we play it, we play it hard and we anticipate winning in Dallas."

Lakers fans are shocked — shocked! — at this turn of events.

Actually, the question is: What took this so long to happen?

The last four seasons, in which they won two titles, lost to the Celtics in 2008 and, uh, got off to a slow start this spring, have been like one long saga.

On one hand, they had nonpareil Kobe Bryant; "the game's most skilled big man" in Pau Gasol; versatile Lamar Odom; emerging Andrew Bynum and clutch Derek Fisher, with Jackson as Yoda.

On the other hand, they had Kobe's injuries plus the team's advancing age, declining hunger and ever-less depth and athleticism, with Phil zinging them as if he was emceeing a roast in their honor.

This time the bad things shot out of the gate, leaving the good things 20 lengths back.

Of all this spring's calamities — what's next, Moses shows up and unleashes the locusts? — only Gasol's swoon came as a surprise.

Before, Gasol kept getting the ball and shot his way out of any funk.

Now the ball goes to Bynum as often as Gasol.

Otherwise, it's just the usual array of problems, which seemed to take their turn, one after another.

If it wasn't their lack of urgency, it was their casual defense, or Bryant's ankle or their bench.

Remember this one from all those wooly Laker regular seasons:

It's only November (or December, January, February, March or April).

That goes for Dallas too.

Having been handled by the Lakers all season, and for all seasons, the Mavericks turned out to be the wrong team at the wrong time to fool around with.

Despite the Lakers' embarrassment at not being able to guard the Mavericks' pick-and-roll, Dallas has only scored 96 and 93 points in the two games.

The Lakers, who averaged 102 points this season, have gone 94-81.

With all their big men and a tough, lane-packing defense, the Mavericks have held Gasol, Bynum and Odom to a combined 37.5 points a game and 44% from the floor.

They averaged 44.5 during the season, shooting 54%.

Then there are the benches, where former Lakers star and co-owner and current cable analyst Magic Johnson noted, "Things have to change."

Unless the Mavericks agree to exchange benches, don't hold your breath.

The Mavericks' bench, the league's best, has outscored the Laker reserves, 70-37.

And yet....

As kooky as the Lakers' dynamic is, Jackson is good at keeping his teams in a positive frame of mind, no matter how dire the situation.

I wasn't surprised at Bryant's unruffled demeanor after Game 2. I thought their real mood — tense — would show up at Thursday's practice, meaning no player would talk, least of all Bryant.

Instead, the players talked, and the first was Kobe.

Their poise, at least, is real. Now to see what else they have left.

Bryant's last-second three-pointer that would have won Game 1 was dead on, long by an inch or two, hitting off the back of the rim.

For the first time in three years — and perhaps the last time as presently constituted — the Lakers are on the wrong side of those inches.

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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