I can’t remember a certain point in last night’s Game 2 where I knew the Lakers were going to lose. Usually there is a defining moment in a game where momentum shifts and one team goes on to victory while the other ends in defeat. As I watched last night’s game I realized that it felt like watching an episode of the Twilight Zone.
Over the last two seasons the Lakers have won every must-win game they’ve played. In every playoff series it always seemed that they had the edge even when they were losing. The opponents always reacted to the Lakers moves rather than the other way around.
For the first time in three years that feeling was nowhere to be found. No matter what the Lakers did the Mavericks always had an answer. No matter how close the Lakers were the Mavericks found a way to re-establish control. In a game that was supposed to showcase the championship pedigree the Lakers have built the past two years they looked more like a punch-drunk boxer giving it one last go for an easy paycheck.
While there are plenty of things to look at and say that’s what cost the Lakers, I think this may finally be the series where the Lakers have run into a riddle they can’t solve. Despite all the talk about the Mavericks’ fragile psyche and their consistent breakdowns in the playoffs, they have handled themselves like champions through the first eight games of the post-season.
If the Mavericks do go on to eliminate the Lakers and advance deep into the playoffs they can look at one game as the turning point. After leading by 23 points late in the third quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers the Mavericks found themselves drowning. An impossible comeback led by an ailing star stunned Dallas and gave hope to the Blazers. The media jumped on the opportunity to proclaim the Mavericks were back, and would once again find a way to exorcise themselves from the playoffs.
Since that monumental collapse the Mavericks have done just the opposite. The team seems mentally prepared and physically dominant. A team that was once called soft and flimsy suddenly rallied behind a debilitating loss and turned defeat into victory. At the time of that loss the Mavericks were 2-2 in the playoffs. Since then they’re 4-0, and have pushed the back to back defending champions to the brink.
The aura of invincibility surrounding the Lakers is gone. The feeling that a miracle is not only likely but expected is no longer reality for this team. Something just feels different about this particular group of Lakers. And a lot of that can be be accredited to the Dallas Mavericks.
The Mavericks are beating the Lakers in almost every way possible. Dallas has taken the Lakers greatest strengths and turned them into weaknesses. The soft label that Los Angeles has spent two years trying to shed has been blanketed around them by a team looking to accomplish the same goal.
The roles of the two teams seem strangely reversed. To continue the Twilight Zone example from earlier, the Mavericks appear to have stolen the Lakers mojo and are using it against them. The unflappable superstar, in this case Dirk Nowitzki, is hitting shots that are deemed impossible. Their aging point guard seems to have found the fountain of youth and is connecting on timely buckets that kill the momentum of the opposing team. The success of unsung bench heroes deflates the opposition. This is the script that the Lakers have lived by for the past two seasons. This is the script that has found the Lakers victorious over countless teams. Yet this season it appears as if the Lakers are on the wrong end of the storyline.
Obviously there are more questions to explore if you truly want to dissect the series. Questions that involve Phil Jackson’s coaching decisions, Andrew Bynum’s post-game comments, and Ron Artest’s momentary lapse of reason. But in the end it appears the Lakers may have finally met their match. The team that couldn’t lose in the playoffs has run into the team that couldn’t win, and in a strange twist of fortunes each team is doing the opposite.[phpbay]Los Angeles Lakers, 3, “”, “”[/phpbay]