Last Saturday, Phil Jackson decided to give his team a day off from practice, not even having a walkthrough to help prepare for the aggressive, ball-hawking defense of the Atlanta Hawks. The reason is that as a long regular season winds down, he wants them rested and focused for what really matters, the playoffs.
The team responded with one of their worst games of the year, a terrible offensive night, where they looked bored.
Fans responded to that by picking apart another night of poor bench play and fretting about home court advantage against Cleveland.
What does all this mean? The playoffs can’t get here soon enough. Everyone in the Lakers Nation is handling the waiting as well as Bart and Lisa Simpson in the back seat of the car (Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?)
The Lakers have essentially had the top spot in the West locked up since Christmas. Outside of Andrew Bynum, there have been no major injuries. There has been none of the drama that followed this team in the three-peat era — the players all get along. They like each other. All of that combined has led to boredom, despite the wins, for fans and players alike.
The coaching staff is already starting to think about the postseason. You can see it in the tightened rotations for the struggling bench players. Back in December, Jackson would just leave the struggling unit out there seemingly forever and let them learn the hard way. But in the last few games, more starters have been mixed in with the bench players and the leash has been tightened — when things go wrong the starters are back faster. Like in the playoffs.
Fans sense this could be a title year, maybe, the tedium of waiting for the playoffs and the games that matter on that run is getting to us. So we are picking apart the play in Atlanta and wondering why that team doesn’t look like the Lakers that beat the Jazz in the playoffs. The reason? This is a seven-game road trip, not the playoffs.
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So we start complaining about where Andrew Bynum chooses to party, or talk about off-season moves to help out the point guard position, or wonder of Kobe’s legs are worn out and that is the reason his shot is flat lately. Lakers fans fret. We can seem like nervous poodles.
But the reality is, everyone is bored. It’s going to be a couple of weeks until the Lakers and Dallas face off in the first round, until the intensity level goes up a notch and Phil Jackson and Mark Cuban start their inevitable war of words. Until then, everyone who cares about the Lakers is just looking for a way to fill time.
Are we there yet?