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A tale of two contenders

Mar 31, 2010, 11:46 PM EST

The Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers are the crown jewels of the league. Both lead their respective conferences, both will have homecourt advantage through their conference Finals, both are elite.

And Wednesday they provide a fascinating cross-examination of one another.

The Lakers mailed one in in Atlanta, getting wiped off the map by the Hawks 109-92. It was not pretty. The Lakers have very little to blame. It wasn’t a matchup problem. It wasn’t a back to back. It was the tail end of a road trip, but still. To be down by double digits nearly the entire second half is pretty incredible for a team many consider to still be the best in the league. The answer? Even the Hawks announcers knew, the Lakers had no interest in being on the floor tonight.

It’s nothing new for the Lakers, who have lost three of their last five, two by double digits in routs. This team has simply played lazy for the majority of the season, turning it on for select quarters in most games, and yet there they are, top of the standings, top of the world. For all this team’s talent and ability, their effort indicates that they simply do not care about the regular season. I could spout off to you something about how true champions give their all in every game, every contest, but that’s a lie.

This is the NBA, and 82 game death march, and only the strongest survive, sure, but part of being strong is knowing when to drag your feet to conserve strength. The Lakers just happen to be dragging their feet, occasionally coming to a complete stop and getting trod over. Even the most confident Laker fan has to wonder how much is simple boredom and how much is actual problems with the team, most notably their play inside. They’ve earned the faith of the acolytes, but they’d better deliver at the altar.

Meanwhile, the Cavs let the Bucks who, no lie, they could very well end up seeing in the second round, hang around for 48 minutes, needing a LeBron James steal on the last possession off a horrible Luke Ridnour pass to ice it. This despite a 45-9 free throw advantage for the Cavs, at home. What’s more, if you watched the game, the Cavs were plugged into this one. While the Lakers were FedExing theirs in, the Cavs were locked in, putting forth the same effort that’s gotten them where they’re at. Yet the result was still in doubt, even with everything that was in their favor.

Last year the Cavs blistered the regular season, torching their way into the Conference Finals, laughing and dancing all the way. And all they got for it was a lousy t-shirt that said “Dwight Howard WUZ HERE.” And a win’s better than a loss. But so much of a team’s success depends on the ability to “turn it on” and get hot at the right time. Peak too early and you’re Cleveland last year. Peak too late and you’re the Pistons nearly every year in the 2000’s.

We’ve got two contenders who are still the favorites. Two titans who are still the Lords of their conferences. But to pretend that the Lakers loss is meaningless is as shortsighted as putting too much stock in it and equally foolish. And to assert that all is well with Cleveland because they got the W is to forget their history, and to ignore that the Lakers got blown out, but they also didn’t give anything, either.

  1. Manee - Apr 1, 2010 at 7:23 PM

    all you silly cavaliers fans ran the same propoganda last year. the fact remains: cavs were the best regular season team last year and then get their pants pulled down by orlando. and it will happen again. no answer for dwight howard or the magic’s shooters. add to that the chemistry issues that will result from the return of fat, out-of-shape shaq, and you got problems. the playoffs is a different world. ITS THE LAKERS’ WORLD. doubt that and you know nothing about nba basketball

  2. Manee - Apr 1, 2010 at 7:23 PM

    all you silly cavaliers fans ran the same propoganda last year. the fact remains: cavs were the best regular season team last year and then get their pants pulled down by orlando. and it will happen again. no answer for dwight howard or the magic’s shooters. add to that the chemistry issues that will result from the return of fat, out-of-shape shaq, and you got problems. the playoffs is a different world. ITS THE LAKERS’ WORLD. doubt that and you know nothing about nba basketball

  3. Manee - Apr 1, 2010 at 7:25 PM

    all you silly cavaliers fans ran the same propoganda last year. the fact remains: cavs were the best regular season team last year and then get their pants pulled down by orlando. and it will happen again. no answer for dwight howard or the magic’s shooters. add to that the chemistry issues that will result from the return of fat, out-of-shape shaq, and you got problems. the playoffs is a different world. ITS THE LAKERS’ WORLD. doubt that and you know nothing about nba basketball

  4. Josh - Apr 1, 2010 at 7:37 PM

    I agree with you in the sense that certain elements within the organization care: namely Phil and Kobe, who are sort of the “heart” of this team. In a sense it might be a bad thing that the coach is not reaching some of these other Lakers players and putting that will to keep going in them, but I think Phil has never been one of those Rah-Rah coaches. He can get great players to work together for the greater good but can’t really convince them that meaningless games (which these are) are actually important.
    But certain guys – Lamar, maybe Fish, most of the bench – doesn’t seem to have that fear of losing right now. I can’t tell how many times I yelled at my TV last night because I saw Fish come help on a driving player and then watch, unmoving, as the ball was kicked out to the three line and shot. Normally these guys run at the shooter arms raised, at least trying to throw off the shooter a little, but in this game it was like running back to their man was too much effort!
    I don’t know if you can say the Lakers aren’t trying – nobody wants to lose in this league – but I do see a general lack of focus, especially on the bench. It’s like they want to win but when the time comes for certain guys to step up and make that extra play the energy just isn’t there.
    Plus the shooting is terrible right now, especially from 3.

  5. Josh - Apr 1, 2010 at 7:48 PM

    Dude… no $h1t the Cavs would be great with no injuries… guess what so would the Lakers! So would just about EVERY OTHER TEAM. That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.
    Our best guy has been covered in injuries all season long and he’s still playing his ass off. Lebron ain’t dealt with half of what Kobe’s had to play with. Bynum has lost time and has been out during this latest road trip, Artest missed time, Luke Walton has been out nearly the whole season. Look at the Blazers, they’ve lost like half their team, look at the Nuggets who don’t even have a coach right now! And you’re complaining about injuries. Get the F out of here.

  6. Foul Dwimmerlaik - Apr 1, 2010 at 8:19 PM

    Hey, snotty one. Why don’t you be a nice kid and play in your sandbox with the rest of your power puff girls? Turds for breakfast? Indeed. I eat turds like you for breakfast. HAHAHA!!!
    All you got is trash talk. For a team WITH NO RINGS AT ALL, you got no right to have a swagger like the Lakers. Demolished by the Spurs in the lone Finals appearance. Embarrassed by the Magic after all those hype last year.
    Win a ring first, then we talk.
    As for me, I’m not that much worried for LA in this tail-end part of the season. Unlike you, I will reserve my swagger and just wait again for another parade in LA.

  7. jung - Apr 1, 2010 at 9:32 PM

    Couldn’t be more biased than this article. When the Lakers lost by double digit, it’s because they played lazy and don’t care about regular games. When the Cavs won by a couple points, they are not good team. don’t you think the CAVS let the bucks hang there because they don’t care so much too? What’s the different? The only difference is that the author kissed Lakers’ behind. NO credibility whatsoever. What about Kobe’s anger when his team lost? Isn’t that an indication that he cared about the win? You, the author, sir know nothing about basketball. Go to LAland and get some tips from Kobe!

  8. jung - Apr 1, 2010 at 9:33 PM

    Couldn’t be more biased than this article. When the Lakers lost by double digit, it’s because they played lazy and don’t care about regular games. When the Cavs won by a couple points, they are not good team. don’t you think the CAVS let the bucks hang there because they don’t care so much too? What’s the different? The only difference is that the author kissed Lakers’ behind. NO credibility whatsoever. What about Kobe’s anger when his team lost? Isn’t that an indication that he cared about the win? You, the author, sir know nothing about basketball. Go to LAland and get some tips from Kobe!

  9. Le - Apr 1, 2010 at 9:43 PM

    You Lakers fans keep screaming that Cavs have good record because the East is weak. Well your Lakers got kicked almost every time they played there. 0-3 in the East, 0-2 loss to the Cavs, 17 points loss to the Hawks. Even your playoff team, the spurs, lost to the East’s worst team, the nets. So much for weak East.

  10. Foul Dwimmerlaik - Apr 1, 2010 at 10:14 PM

    Yap all you want. In the end what matters is who is the last team standing in June. Season games don’t mean squat at this point. LA has taken care of business already. Playoffs. Let’s see what you guys got.

  11. elena - Apr 3, 2010 at 2:15 PM

    They crushed everyone in the playoffs and went 15-1, a record that isn’t likely to be beaten anytime soon.
    thanks. http://www.bilge-kagan.org

  12. Foul Dwimmerlaik - Apr 4, 2010 at 7:17 AM

    Pontificate, my gluteus maximus!
    True, and I respect the fact that the Cavs have improved this year. Facts can’t lie about the Cavs’ winning percentage against Western teams. But the problem is, the Cavs only meet such teams TWICE a year instead of thrice or four times. Just because you won over a team twice doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s as good as winning over them four times. Winning twice doesn’t guarantee a sweep of 4 games!
    And dude, in the playoffs, SEASON RECORDS DON’T MEAN SQUAT. History will tell you. 8TH SEEDS GET TO DEFEAT FIRST SEEDS. New York with its seemingly pathetic 27-23 season record managed to get to the Finals in ’99. Remember that season when the Cavs owned the Spurs only to get swept in the Finals? What about last year? You guys rampaged through the season and into the 2 rounds of the playoffs ONLY TO CHOKE in the ECF.
    As a fan, we “honks” have the swagger and you can’t take it away from us by virtue of our franchise’s 15 banners, not to mention compared to other teams, OUR CONSISTENCY OF BEING TITLE CONTENDERS decade in decade out.
    What about your team? Your state? Nada, mai mee, wala, nil, nessun, keine, nyets!
    It makes me laugh when champs-wannabe-fans like you have this swagger when your team HASN’T PROVEN ANYTHING YET.
    Spurs fans have earned that swagger.
    Celtics fans have earned that swagger.
    Lakers fans have earned that swagger.
    You sir, haven’t gotten anything yet.
    Get one first, then MAYBE we can talk as you enjoy the kind of swagger we got.

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