There may not have been a malaise like this since the Carter administration. Or at least it feels like it in Los Angeles.
Lakers fans at Staples Center were booing the two-time defending NBA champs Sunday night because they were getting out hustled completely by the Memphis Grizzlies. Just like the Bucks a couple of weeks ago and a host of other teams in the last couple months. Go ahead and credit the Grizzlies for their hustle, they earned it, but the Lakers showed nothing to combat it. Kobe Bryant admitted as much to Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register.
“We’re looking too far down the road,” Bryant said after the loss to Memphis on Sunday night, “instead of looking just at the game that’s right in front. You start skipping steps if you look too far down the line.”
The Lakers realize that in a sense the important games don’t start until late April, when the playoffs start.
However, the regular season is for developing good team habits and building the foundation on which playoff success can be built. Sure the Lakers have the framework of that foundation laid by the core of the team having been together and won titles before. But this is still a team, a new year, and a new foundation that has to be poured and let set.
You can tell Kobe Bryant is working to motivate his guys with actions — he came out firing last Tuesday against the Spurs trying to pull his team up with him. But then he went cold shooting and his teammates had fallen into bad habits quickly because this looked like a game Kobe would just take over. The energy was there but the team looked like a chicken with its head cut off, just running around aimlessly. It looked like the same thing Sunday with Kobe having a 17-point quarter but the rest of the team not able to help or capitalize on it. It looked like the 2006 Smush Paker/Kwame Brown Lakers in that way.
As Ding points out, this is Kobe’s team. Still. He motivates it, they don’t have the back-to-back titles without his will. He may be coming off summer knee surgery and have arthritic and injured fingers that slowed his start, but he has to start taking charge.
He needs to start kicking his team’s a– right now.
While the playoffs may not start for months, the motivation to start playing hard and doing things right cannot wait. The good habits have to start being developed now — not just energy but good execution to go with it. Otherwise the Lakers will get to the playoffs and step up their energy and it will look like the Spurs game. And games like the ugly loss to Memphis in early January will be part of the reason why.