I know you’re going to tune this out. You’d prefer getting your “Zen On” as you do when you stay out of team huddles. You’d choose listening to Jay-Z blaring on your Beats By Dr. Dre headphones the same way you’ve done countless times this season in the locker room. You’d rather drive down the 405 in your Porsche 911, hoping this one time the police don’t issue you a speeding ticket.
But this is getting out of hand, and is far more egregious than some of the immature acts you’ve already pulled. You know what they are. I know what they are. Laker fans know what they are. No need to repeat them endlessly like a nagging parent.
As the Lakers have endlessly defended your immaturity as nothing more than growing pains, your latest transgression provides tangible evidence that your unpredictable behavior could cost them severely. The Lakers’ 102-99 Game 5 loss Tuesday to the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center reduces your team’s series lead to 3-2. That means you’re going to have to hop on a plane soon to play Denver on Thursday in Game 6, hoping the Pepsi Center crowd, the altitude and the Nuggets’ overall effort isn’t enough to needlessly extend this series to seven games. “It sucks,” as you put it afterward. But so did your Game 5 performance.
Your 16 points on five-of-eight shooting and 11 rebounds may have looked good on paper. But it looked horrible on the court. You admitted you didn’t react well to Denver’s double- and triple-teams. You acknowledged you should’ve run up the court faster and posted up earlier in the shot clock. On one play, you even let the ball drop out of your hands and go out of bounds.
On another play, you picked up a technical foul by swiping at Kenneth Faried. Too bad you didn't put much effort otherwise on defense. Instead, you made JaVale McGee suddenly look like another version of Blake Griffin with his 21 points and numerous uncontested dunks. Afterwards, you conceded, “I have to play harder and match his intensity.”
But you didn’t.
Instead, you just gave the Nuggets bulletin board material by bragging after Monday’s practice that “close-out games are actually kind of easy.” I appreciate your honesty on everything. It surely beats the clichés everyone else provides. And in fairness, it was hardly inflammatory considering you added “teams tend to fold if you come out and play hard in the beginning.”
Kobe Bryant didn't think that was a big deal, either. But he added “it’s a lesson learned” for saying something that would fuel Denver Coach George Karl to address your quote during the team’s film study.
“If you're going to be a champion,” Bryant said, “you've got to play through that kind of stuff."
You didn’t do any of that.
Just like your scoreless first half in Game 3, you became the largest factor in the Lakers’ loss. Yet, you didn’t react the same way. When I mentioned how you criticized your own effort level in the first half of Game 3, I wondered if you held the same sentiments about Game 5.
“No. I think I came out and tried to do well,” you said afteward. “Then, obviously not getting the ball, it's tough when you don't get up shots. I shot eight times That's really it.I got to find out a way to go out and do well with getting the ball down lower and going quicker. Just making little adjustments.".
Bryant was the first to quickly defend your play. He pointed out that with the Lakers shooting 38.9%, there was no reason for Denver stop double-teaming you and take your teammates’ outside shots seriously. Pau Gasol’s seven points on four-of-11 shooting and 10 rebounds as well as Jordan Hill’s zero points and four boards hardly provided enough to complement you in containing an efficient McGee and an energetic Faried.
But as soon as you encountered immediate struggles with your post game, you checked out everywhere else. You didn’t get back on transition defense. You didn’t take enough ownership in getting offensive putbacks (four). You didn’t do much of anything to prove you’re an elite center.
Of course, we all know you’re capable of bouncing back. We’ve seen you land your first All-Star appearance by netting career highs in points, rebounds and minutes. We’ve seen you become the fifth player in Laker history to grab at least 30 rebounds. We’ve seen you this series tie the NBA playoff record for most blocks in a game.
You lamented not having a “perfect game” after dropping 27 points and nine rebounds in a Game 2 win. Yet after your no-shows in the Lakers’ two losses this series how can anyone truly trust you’ll maintain that same mindset consistently?
“It’s going to be who wants it more,” you said regarding the key to winning Game 6.