Fixing the Problem; Lakers Need to Remember How to Win

After the Lakers lost their fifth consecutive game last night to the Oklahoma City Thunder it seemed that even they were wondering when this losing streak was going to end. Los Angeles hadn’t lost five games in a row since acquiring Pau Gasol on February 1, 2008. In fact, before this season they hadn’t even lost four games in a row with Gasol. After the loss in Portland on Friday and the loss against the Thunder last night the Lakers are setting all kinds of new records for themselves. The problem is that these aren’t records that they want to be setting. Especially in April.

However, even as Laker fans all over the world have one leg dangling over the edge, it’s fair to say that the Lakers are still favorites to win the Western Conference and possibly the NBA championship. Their problems right now aren’t due to injuries or physical ailments. The problems are mental. And if last night’s finish was any bit of an indicator, which to me it clearly was, fixing these problems can be fairly simple. So what do the Lakers need to do to get back on track? It’s simple – win one game.

While one win isn’t going to make up for the five straight losses or the fact that they’re looking at starting numerous playoff series’ on the road, it will allow them to regain their greatest asset – their confidence. Late in last night’s game with the Thunder the Lakers had control. They had a lead, and although it was slim it seemed as if the Lakers had control of the game. And why wouldn’t they? They’re the back to back champions. They have a plethora of smart, veteran players that know what it takes to win. Plus they were in the friendly confines of the Staples Center. They had everything going their way. But when it came time to execute and make plays that would win the game, they faltered.

I saw too many players take bad shots early in the shot clock. I saw players who know how to close out games suddenly look like a squad of rookies pressing themselves to make an outstanding play. Instead of relying on each other and their offense, they stuttered and failed as individuals. On the other end of the court the Thunder did everything that needs to be done to win a game. They played team ball. Instead of the contested shots the Lakers were getting, the Thunder were picking apart the defense with perfect penetration and finding the open teammate when the Los Angeles defense collapsed on them. Everything the Lakers did wrong down the stretch of the game the Thunder did right. And that’s why they won.

So why does a team that has won as much as this current Lakers squad has suddenly falter and trip over themselves in a late game where they have a chance to win? Because when you begin to lose again and again your confidence begins to disappear. When a team that wins consistently, such as the Lakers, is in a close match with a perennial loser, the mindset of the players on each team is different. For the winning team the thoughts are – ‘how are we going to find a way to pull out this win?’ On the other hand the team that is used to losing thinks – ‘how will we find another way to blow this game?’ Winning is a mindset. And it’s one that the Lakers don’t have right now.

Re-establishing confidence will work in multiple ways for the Lakers. Not only will they believe in themselves, but other teams will begin to fear them as well. When a team has lost several games in a row the opponents begin to smell blood. But, when the team has won six games in a row and begin to hit a couple shots to cut into a lead the opposing team instantly begins to panic. That mental edge is something that every championship team must have, because the NBA is far too competitive to win without it.

All it takes is one win for the Lakers to remember that they have what it takes to beat any team in this league. They have what it takes to win the championship for the third straight season. They just need to believe it. And when they do, look out.

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