Lakers Coach Phil Jackson got tough with some players, including Pau Gasol,… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Reporting from Dallas — It was supposed to mean the end of the free world when the Lakers lost in Cleveland, especially for poor gotta-walk-home John Ireland.
Who knew those would be the fun times this season?
Those Lakers were easily explained away. It's only February. They're saving their best for last. There's no way Kobe Bryant lets this happen.
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It's now May, they've saved their worst for last and Bryant can't help but watch it happen.
It's starting to feel a lot like 2004, the last time a mini-Lakers dynasty shed its skin and was outpunked.
Forgive the confusion, but the Dallas Mavericks are sticking it to the Lakers. On their baddest, most notorious day, the Mavericks wouldn't be confused with the rough-and-grumble Detroit team that put an end to the Kobe-Shaq-Phil triumvirate. If Ben Wallace sneered, Jose Barea would go running for the 300-level seats.
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Bryant, an optimist until the final seconds tick off the Lakers' season, still likes the chances of coming back from a 3-0 series deficit.
"They do it in hockey all the time," he said. "I like to think we're pretty tough too."
No and not really.
By "all the time" in the NHL, he must mean three times (Toronto in 1942, the New York Islanders in 1975 and Philadelphia in 2010). He didn't even go near baseball, where only the Boston Red Sox in 2004 have come back from 3-0 to win a series.
But, hey, the New York Yankees are here to play the Texas Rangers this weekend and they're staying at the same hotel as the Lakers. Maybe Bryant can hear from Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez how bad life can really be.
While we're at it, Jackson doesn't deserve to go out like this.
He didn't want to come back for another year, had to be cajoled strongly by Lakers brass to return with a pay cut, and now the litter of a discarded season is piling up in front of his padded courtside throne.
Those who say he's not coaching enough need a relaxing vacation in Clueville. He has coached the same way for 20 years with unbelievable success. Doesn't call timeouts, doesn't show much emotion … nothing new here, people.
He even tried to switch it up in Game 3, going drill sergeant on Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Derek Fisher during timeouts.
Jackson yelling at Fisher, one of his all-time faves? That's like Snoopy snapping at Charlie Brown.
Even so, the Lakers forgot how to play defense the last five minutes.
The really big issue here? There's no guarantee of retooling this thing overnight.
The Lakers have eight players over 30 under contract next season. They're so far over the salary cap until 2014 that their only annual free-agent option is a mid-level player for about $6 million a year.
No chance of getting Blake Griffin as a free agent. Or Chris Paul. Or Dwight Howard. Good times.
Of course the Lakers can make trades, but it takes two teams to tango.
Anybody out there want three more years and $21.8 million worth of Ron Artest? How about three more years and $12 million of Steve Blake? Two years and $11.5 million of Luke Walton's bad back?
Didn't think so.
Lakers fans seem to think Andrew Bynum will look great in an Orlando uniform, and there's this admission from Dirk Nowitzki on Friday night.
"Bynum is probably the best center in the league right now," he said. "When he catches the ball deep, it's basically over."
If I had the email address for Orlando General Manager Otis Smith, I'd include it so everybody could share their thoughts on the greatness of Bynum. But fans had better hope that Otis doesn't like to read medical charts, knee-trauma histories and boring things like that.
Until then, the Lakers will try to overcome some real odds.
Ninety-eight NBA teams have faced 3-0 deficits in best-of-seven series. Ninety-eight have been eliminated.
As they'd say to the Lakers in Texas: Good luck. Y'all need it.