Monday, May 09, 2011

Lakers Dynasty Dies Quick and Painful Death

As I said on Twitter ( Sunday, there isn't much about the NBA more enjoyable than watching the Los Angeles Lakers get eliminated.

Of course, when it goes down like it did Sunday, one is left to wonder exactly how much fun it really was.

After all, when a team doesn't display much passion, pride, or general desire to extend their season beyond the first elimination game, it renders the idea of getting to throw salt in the proverbial wound as rather useless.

And let's not make any mistake. On Sunday, the Lakers showed absolutely no fire. No drive. No want. They were ready to be done.

Contrast that with the end of the Philadelphia Flyers' season on Friday night in Boston, in a game where the Flyers fought and clawed and stuck with things until late in the third, when things finally fell apart for a team that had already shown they really didn't have anything for Boston this time around. It wasn't about heart or desire to compete. The Flyers had plenty. They just didn't have anything left in the tank, and they lost to a clearly better and more effective team.

If that's not enough evidence, look at the Detroit Red Wings, who are still alive after falling behind three games to none against San Jose. Not only are the Wings still alive, but smart money at this point is probably on them winning their series.

The Lakers will not be revived as quickly. Their flawed team was mercilessly exposed by Dallas, and a listless effort did nothing to cover up the known flaws, including a general lack of athleticism and the need for an elite point guard who can run the offense and play some defense.

Was it the most emphatic elimination of a two-time (or more) champion in recent memory? The last time the Lakers won multiple titles in a row, they lost in six games to San Antonio in 2003 (after a three-peat). Discounting the Chicago Bulls, who were blown up after their 1998 title (sixth in eight years and third straight), the 1997 Houston Rockets were the last two-time defending champion to be swept out of the playoffs the following year. The 2006 Miami Heat were swept out of the 2007 playoffs by Chicago.

In other sports, the fall-off can be more dramatic. It's not uncommon for defending Stanley Cup champions to miss the playoffs the following year, as Carolina did after their 2006 title. Of course, Detroit took their title defense in 2009 all the way to Game 7 of the Finals, and Chicago wasn't eliminated by Vancouver until Game 7 this year, even though half of last year's Blackhawk roster was playing elsewhere this year.

Discounting Carolina missing the playoffs in 2007, the last defending champion to be swept out of the NHL playoffs was Detroit in 2003 (Anaheim). You have to go back to 1976 to find a multi-time defending champion (Philadelphia) who was swept out of the playoffs the following year, and Philly played Montreal that year ... for the Stanley Cup.

What's my point?

This was quite a fall from grace for Los Angeles. That they did it without class or without a fight should be no shock, because while they didn't go streetball on the Celtics in the 2008 finals, they did get blown out of Game 6 in Boston.

It was a sad way for Phil Jackson to go out -- assuming this really was his last game. Jackson is one of the all-time greats in his profession, no matter what you think of the players he got to coach during his career. Other coaches have screwed up better situations than those Jackson was presented with over the years.

We'll see if the Lakers players learned anything over the years of playing for Jackson. Based on their behavior Sunday, it's fair to say they may not have.

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