Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mike Brown Is One to Three Weeks Away From Strong Professional Discomfort

If you missed tonight's Game Five in Los Angeles, you missed a pretty great basketball game. The visiting Nuggets staved off elimination, in that elimination is always something you stave off, with Andre Miller and JaVale McGee playing the games of their lives, and the Lakers making a game of it late behind one of those for the ages Kobe Doing Work fourth quarters. The Lakers nearly overcame a 15-point fourth quarter deficit, with the Nugs missing free throws and looking paler by the second, but Miller and McGee would not them lose, and Bryant couldn't complete the comeback. But that's not what I want to discuss here.

Rather, it's this. In the waning days of the Shaquille O'Neal Era in Los Angeles, when he was still capable of 35/20 nights that just redefined the game as Something Unfair, the Lakers lost a game when Shaq was Shaq. Phil Jackson said something curious about it, notably that they had wasted a great game, and that was something they just couldn't do. I'm wondering, really wondering, if the same thing is about to happen to the Lakers.

Bryant gave the Lakers a chance to win tonight that they had no business having; Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol clearly lost their man-to-man battles against McGee and Kenneth Faried, and when that happens, there's no way the Lakers should be able to stay with this Denver team, not with their bench issues, made worse by the lack of Metta World Conflict.

Now, the Lakers have to go to thin altitude in Denver for a Game Six, with Denver having all kinds of hope for the upset. Now, Bryant's got to bring the A game again, continue to wet nurse Bynum and Gasol, tell Steve Blake and Ramon Sessions that he doesn't miss Derek Fisher and trusts them just the same with the game on the line... and all of that is, remember, just to get to an increasingly rested and ready OKC Thunder squad that just exorcised their Maverick demons.

How much of this can you put on rookie Lakers coach Mike Brown? Probably not much, really: if players come out flat at home, especially a veteran club like the Lakers that are usually death in closeout situations, that hardly seems like something a coach can influence. And perhaps I'm making too much of Brown rolling the dice to get back into this game, since the amount of TV timeouts, and Bryant's insane level of conditioning and relative lack of necessary grind it out effort on defense, should keep them from looking too hangdog.

But there is this: the Thunder are better than the Lakers. The Nuggets, in a series where bench players matter, get a lot closer to as good, particularly if the Laker bigs disappear. Bryant suffered through some of his career low shooting percentages this year, and has been known to force things when teammates shrink from the spotlight.

And so, in many ways... Brown went deep into the gas tank tonight. If, and when, the Lakers fail to win a championship, this decision might come back to haunt.

And if Denver somehow wins the next two games and bounces the Lake Show out early?

Well, we'd go from professional discomfort to professional extinction.

And the Lakers will take one more step to that Knick-like train wreck that so many people have been dreaming for, for so many years...

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