Cloudy future for Lakers after premature playoff exit

LOS ANGELES, (Reuters) – The aging and erratic Los  Angeles Lakers faced an uncertain future yesterday after the  NBA champions were embarrassingly swept out of the second round  of the playoffs by the Dallas Mavericks.

Kobe Bryant

In pursuit of a third successful championship in coach Phil  Jackson’s final season, the Lakers were routed 122-86 in  Sunday’s Game Four in Dallas, an abrupt and humiliating end to  their 2010-11 campaign.

“This is the worst I’ve ever seen the Lakers play in a game  that they need,” Lakers vice president and Hall of Famer Magic  Johnson said after the champions had been swept aside 4-0.

Lakers forward Ron Artest summed up the feelings of his  team’s loyal but frustrated supporters.

“The Lakers fans have had their hearts broke,” Artest told  reporters. “And all those people who aren’t Lakers fans are now  laughing at the Lakers fans.”

The headline for yesterday’s sports section of the Los Angeles  Times read: “You Old Softies”, while the front page of the LA  Daily News was emblazoned with the word: “Destroyed”.

Another Daily News headline blared: “Done, with a Big D”.

For most of the season the Lakers thrilled and frustrated  their fans in equal measure, losing games they should have won  and winning a few just when it seemed they had no chance.

Many critics argued that the Lakers were increasingly  vulnerable due to the team’s collective age and that the  players could no longer sustain the defensive effort required  for all four quarters.

However, when their big frontcourt men imposed their size  advantage the Lakers looked every inch champions-elect for yet  another season.

“We have to do a lot of things right to be able to play  defense the way we want to, and most of it is about controlling  the tempo of the game,” 11-times NBA champion coach Jackson  said. “We’re not the fastest team.

“I still think when they (the Lakers) are playing their  best, they’re the best team in the league.”

ELUSIVE TARGET

That “best” proved to be an elusive target for the men in  purple and gold. They surprisingly lost to the woeful Cleveland  Cavaliers before the All-Star break and suffered a five-game  losing streak the week before the playoffs.

“I don’t know where we lost it … that drive, that bond we  had in the past, that cohesive drive in order to overcome  adversity,” versatile Lakers forward Lamar Odom said.
Just over two years ago, Kobe Bryant described the Lakers’  topsy-turvy form during the playoffs as “bipolar”, a term that  was even more accurate about their uneven play this season.

They initially struggled against smaller and under-manned  New Orleans Hornets before winning the first-round series 4-2,  and then failed to close out late leads twice against Dallas.

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