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.
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.”
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.