LOS ANGELES – The sense of panic strangling the air here in sunny Southern California is strictly an external affair for the Los Angeles Lakers.
If they are nervous about being saddled with a 1-0 deficit in their Western Conference semifinal against the Dallas Mavericks, they aren’t showing it despite intense pressure from local sources wondering why their beloved Lakers can’t seem to get their act together.
The unexpected troubles in the first round of the playoffs with the New Orleans Hornets was one thing. But dropping Game 1 to the Mavericks Monday night has tensions running high in anticipation for Game 2 tonight at Staples Center.
The line of questioning for the Lakers leading up to the most important game of their season might have rattled a less experienced crew, but not Phil Jackson (above), Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and the rest of these Lakers.
Fisher’s take on the current state of the Lakers was particularly insightful. And despite all the doomsday chatter surrounding his team, he refused to take the bait.
“I don’t think that, at least in my opinion, that there’s ever a time when one game, one situation, one bad play, one bad decision creeps into your mind, in terms of what your end goals is,” Fisher said. “Those that have been successful or great at anything have proved that they can bounce back and respond from even the most adverse situations. We’ve done it before. Obviously, we can’t just sit back and rely on what we’ve done in the past. But I just don’t think that … it’s not supposed to be easy. You’re supposed to kind of go through this thing according to plan and you have to just keep battling until you figure it out.”
The Mavericks are counting on it. They know they’ll see a desperate Lakers team in Game 2, a team desperate to even this series before it heads to Dallas for Games 3 and 4.
“They’re champions for a reason,” Mavericks point guard Jason Kidd said. “You have to be prepared for them to respond the way a championship team would.”
Fisher, though, suggested the Lakers will remain calm and measured in their approach, with the tone set by Jackson.
“He doesn’t ever step far away from who he is at his core self, and that is to be calm in a storm and to have composure and poise and have a steel chin even in the midst of troubled times,” Fisher said, sounding more like a Zen Master in training than a point guard and captain of the two-time defending champions. “I’ve taken a lot from that example and Kobe’s taken a lot from it and I think that’s played a major part in our success, that kind of leadership from him.”
Even if L.A. wins Game 2, the questions about the Lakers’ championship mettle will linger. They’ve given people too many reasons to wonder and worry about a team with expectations that can only be realized one way.
“You’re not a champion until you’re a champion,” Fisher said. “So everything in between that … it is what it is and you just deal with it as it comes. So until the final buzzer of the final game and the Larry O’Brien trophy is yours, you haven’t gotten to where you want to be. In 2008, we kind of waltzed our way to the NBA Finals and then didn’t win. The last couple years we’ve had more interesting, dynamic times getting to The Finals and we figured out a way to win in The Finals. We’ve just done what was necessary to win.”
There’s a sinking feeling around here that it’s going to take more than that for this bunch, perhaps fatigued a bit from three straight trips to the final game of the season, and an attempt at a fourth, to get back to their perch atop the Western Conference.
“We’ve accepted the fact that it won’t be perfect, we’re going to lose some games, there are going to be some times when we’re not playing up to our abilities,” Fisher continued, “but if it was just as easy as writing the script and having it go as it was written, there would be a lot more teams that have done what we’re trying to do. There’s a reason why we’re trying to become one of three or maybe four teams ever to make this walk four times in a row.”