Meet the new Lakers, same as the old Lakers

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Thumbnail image for Bryant_miss.jpgThe Lakers lost three games in a row in March and needed a Kobe Bryant buzzer beater to beat Toronto.

In Los Angeles, this gets a bigger reaction than a 5.5 Richter Scale earthquake (I personally won’t move for anything less than a 6). The Lakers fan base is much like an elementary school bully — pushing around anyone who dares challenge them on the Web, but deep down insecure. And this recent spat of play has them skittish like those little dogs women in LA carry around in their purses.

Fueling that we get big Los Angeles Times columns hyping up the fear factor. Cue Bill Plaschke.

They all know. The NBA knows. If we’re going to be honest with ourselves, all of Los Angeles should know.

Based on their current attitude and work ethic, the Lakers are not a championship team. If they can’t summon the consistent urgency of last season, they are not even a Finals team.

When I asked Coach Phil Jackson whether this team had the same consistent urgency of last season, he said, “I don’t think so. … We don’t have that. … Not that we can’t reclaim it at some point. … That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Jackson later added, simply, “The urgency of playing well has not struck us yet.”

Yes, we’ve never seen anything like this in Los Angeles. The Lakers have never looked bored and lost to inferior teams then suddenly looking like world-beaters when their backs are against the wall.

Well, except for last year when they won the title. And through the last two years of the last three-pete era under Jackson.

This is who the Lakers are, people. The players like Derek Fisher get that. Last season not only did they have stretches like this leading into the playoffs, they had them in the playoffs. Remember the Houston series — they gave the Lakers matchup problems and combined with LA’s indifference it went seven games. Then there was the Denver series, when the Lakers mentally coasted through much of the first four, then turned it on and won in six.

The only seven consecutive focused games the champion Lakers played were the last two games of the Denver series then the five in the Finals.

There are things to worry about Lakers fans. Like the offense (check out Forum Blue & Gold and Land O’Lakers and Ball Don’t Lie for the details.) Everyone is not on the same page on offense right now. Kobe is playing a lot of minutes. The Lakers need an entire practice just on throwing entry passes to the post. The Lakers have gotten by because of their talent on offense, but they have not meshed as an offensive unit like they did last season.

But that’s separate from the focus issue. The focus will come back around. It did against Orlando — even Kobe was happy with the effort. And he’s never happy. What let the Lakers down there was the offense, against a good defensive team.

The Lakers can throw the focus switch. Just don’t bet on the offense one.

Jordan Clarkson on Lakers’ win over Knicks: ‘We just kept the foot on their nut and just kept pushing’

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The Lakers outscored the Knicks by one in the first quarter, three in the second quarter, four in the third quarter and 12 in the fourth quarter en route to a 127-107 victory yesterday.

What’s one way to describe that?

Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson in his on-court, post-game interview:

We just kept the foot on their nut and just kept pushing.

That quote is obviously fantastic on its own. Making it better: The NBA published it!

Video of the key moment is above.

Report: Kawhi Leonard disconnected from Spurs

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Spurs star Kawhi Leonard missed most of the season with a vexing quad injury, returned, went out with a shoulder injury and is now sidelined indefinitely with the quad injury.

San Antonio (30-18) has played well without Leonard, but apparently this saga has taken a toll behind the scenes.

Adrian Wojnarowski and Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Months of discord centering on elements of treatment, rehabilitation and timetables for return from a right quadriceps injury have had a chilling impact on San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard’s relationship with the franchise and coaching staff, league sources told ESPN.

Under president and coach Gregg Popovich and general manager RC Buford, the Spurs have a two decades-long history of strong relationships with star players, but multiple sources describe Leonard and his camp as “distant” and “disconnected” from the organization.

Beyond the current rehab for the right quadriceps injury that has caused Leonard, an All-NBA forward, to miss most of the regular season, there is work to be done to repair what has been until now a successful partnership.

In an interview with ESPN, Buford rejected the reporting of turbulence between the franchise and Leonard.

This is extremely vague. Leonard has always looked like a dutiful follower in the Spurs’ strong Popovich-led culture. Is this just frustration from injuries? Frustration from injuries causing other minor issues to boil over? Something else major entirely?

The Spurs spent big on long-term contracts for Pau Gasol and Patty Mills last summer, arguably jeopardizing Leonard’s chances of winning another title in San Antonio. Leonard is an elite two-way player in his prime (at least when healthy), and the Spurs were seemingly locking into a team that will likely top out at very good, not great.

So, what’s going on with Leonard now? Aldridge’s situation might be illustrative. Everyone in San Antonio denied a problem, as the Spurs are doing now. But Popovich revealed a couple weeks ago that Aldridge requested a trade. Popovich didn’t panic, though. He met with Aldridge, communicated and found a workable solution. The same can and probably will happen with Leonard.

But that’s no guarantee, and Leonard can opt out next year. Until this is settled, it’s a huge issue with potential to shake up typically stable San Antonio – and maybe beyond.

Wizards’ players-only meeting doesn’t go well

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The concept of a “team meeting” is sort of silly. At what does players discussing the team – something that happens nearly every day – rise to “meeting” status?

But these team meetings happen ever year, usually when a team is struggling. The Cavaliers, Thunder and Lakers have already had confabs labeled a “team meeting” this season. Teams usually emerge saying they’ve found solutions to their problems. Sometimes, it translates onto the court. Usually, there’s not a significant turnaround.

I’ve never seen a public response to the meeting itself like with the Wizards, though.

John Wall, via Cam Ellis of NBC Sports Washington:

“At our team meeting, I think a couple guys took it in a negative way,” Wall said after the team’s win in Detroit. “It hurt our team. Instead of using it in a positive way like we did in the past and using it to build our team up, it kind of set us back a bit.”

Bradley Beal, via Candace Buckner of The Washington Post:

“It was tough. I try to keep all our stuff as personal as possible but I think in a way not everybody got a chance to speak whenever they wanted to,” Bradley Beal said. “They didn’t want to bring up an issue or something they had a problem with on the team. Regardless of what may be going on, as men we’ve got to be able to accept what the next man says, be respectful about it and move on from it. I think it was one of those situations where we didn’t necessarily get everything that we wanted to get accomplished.

“Honestly, it was probably — I won’t say pointless,” Beal continued, “but we didn’t accomplish what we needed to accomplish in that meeting.”

Yeesh.

Nobody seemed to remember exactly when the meeting occurred, which says something. It sounds as if airing grievances actually hurt team chemistry.

The Wizards (26-20) are good, but not as good as hoped/expected. They too often coast against bad teams, and coach Scott Brooks has openly questioned their effort. So, what’s the solution?

Wall, via Buckner:

“Front office got to figure it out.”

If you’re one of Wall’s teammates who clashed at the meeting, and now you’re hearing him bring it up publicly and imply roster moves might be the solution, how would you feel about your future in Washington?

Rajon Rondo invites Ray Allen to 2008 Celtics reunion

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The 2008 Celtics are finally doing something that isn’t petty.

Rajon Rondo was planning a reunion vacation for that championship team while specifically not inviting Ray Allen. Allen ruffled feathers by leaving Boston for the Heat, and many Celtics held a grudge.

But Paul Pierce eventually said it’s time to move on, and now Rondo is also ready.

Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe:

Rondo said Allen has an open invitation to join his former teammates this summer.

“Everybody [on the team] is invited,” he said.

This is how it should be. Allen was a free agent, free to sign with Miami or wherever he wanted. Not that it should matter here, but the Celtics tried to trade him before he left. And Pierce and Kevin Garnett also left Boston, Pierce talking Garnett into waiving his no-trade clause to facilitate a move to the Nets.

It’s not clear how Garnett, another leader in the charge against Allen, feels about welcoming him. But, presumably, he’ll take a cue from Rondo. Garnett probably won’t be the one calling Allen with the trip details, though.

The big question now: Who gives Scot Pollard the itinerary?