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LRB
01-29-2003, 01:02 PM
Lakers losing the faith
by Chad Ford


Forty games to turn a season around. A six-game winning streak here. A four-game winning streak there. Some dominating post play by Shaquille O'Neal. Some fourth-quarter heroics by Kobe Bryant. A few last-second 3s by Robert Horry.


Phil Jackson says he has tried everything to turn the Lakers around.
It's possible. The Lakers know that. Phil Jackson knows that. The Rockets, Jazz, Warriors and Suns -- the four teams that stand in the Lakers' way -- all know it.

"Things have a way of changing," assistant coach Tex Winter told the L.A. Times.

They sure do. But in what direction? The confidence that has been a hallmark of the Laker's run the past few seasons appears to have eroded. The players themselves sound tentative when they talk about the task ahead of them.

"There really aren't any more nights off," Derek Fisher told the Times. "We're not going to win 40 games in a row. But at the same time, we have to come out and understand that each game, basically, we feel like we have to win."

"Well, being [4] games out with 40 games remaining, it's not an unattainable goal of ours to regain some of our form and make it to the playoffs," forward Rick Fox said. "I don't think in any way are we underestimating what we're about to do. ... The road has not been the greatest thing for this team all year."

The Lakers would likely have to play .600 ball the rest of the way to make the playoffs. Given their road record (5-15), that isn't encouraging.

How can a team that essentially has the same talent it did last year, when the Lakers won it all, stink so horribly this season? Injuries? Lack of motivation? Improved competition? Everyone has theories. Inside the Lakers, most of them revolve around the Lakers' lackluster defense this year.

"I just don't think they're ready to play," Winter said. "They're professional athletes. They're getting paid awfully good money. I should think they would recognize the urgency of the situation and motivate themselves."

The Lakers rank 22nd in the league in points allowed with a shocking 96.9 ppg. Even the Clippers are playing better D this season.

The crisis has Jackson, the Zen optimist, expressing grave reservations about the ability of this team to turn it on in the second half. Jackson is running out of answers at this point. He isn't used to motivating mediocre teams. L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke wonders if Phil has it in him.

"He's not the sort of disciplinarian struggling teams need," Plaschke wrote. "He doesn't instill the sort of fundamentals scuffling players need. He doesn't teach freshman English, he teaches graduate literature, which works only on eager and accomplished scholars. When he arrived here four years ago, the Lakers were filled with such scholars. Today, flush with diplomas, they have reverted to spitballs and food fights. They've changed. Their teacher doesn't know how to change. The chaos has been palpable."

It sounds like Jackson agrees.

"I've looked for everything," he acknowledged to the Times on Tuesday. "And I can't come up with a combination. ... I have not moved us much further down the line. ... I've always been known for being positive, maybe I've been too positive. Maybe I should just say that, positively, this is not a good team."

Jackson's frustrations have raised speculation that it may be time to break up the Lakers. The Lakers have several players, including Horry, Tracy Murray and Samaki Walker, who are in the last year of their contracts. With so many teams looking to get under the cap, the Lakers have a chance to shake things up before the Feb. 20 trade deadline.

Insider has been reporting for weeks that the Lakers' front office has been pushing to make some adjustments. Jackson was always against adding new blood to the Bulls during his reign there. So far, he's resisted breaking up the Lakers as well. Even now, it sounds like he is struggling with the ramifications of a big mid-season move.

"In the history of basketball, you've got to know when a team is finished," he said. "The Celtics made that mistake. That's what happened in Detroit. ... You're talking about betraying heart and loyalty, and you can't do that."

Are the Lakers finished? We're 40 games from unraveling the mystery.

jayC
01-31-2003, 02:16 PM
How crazy would it be if Golden State or Rockets were in and the Lakers were out. This is like when the Broncos won back to back Superbowls than went 5-11.