Analysts love their easy, recycled metaphors, so the most popular column and conversation topic about the Lakers over the past few weeks has naturally been whether or not they can “flip the switch.” See, the were not an exceedingly successful team during the home stretch of the regular season. Overall, they went 11-9 in their final 20 games and an unimpressive 15-15 in their last 30 road games.
So a lot of people have looked at these results and concluded that this Lakers roster might be full of skilled front-runners uninterested in the rigors of the regular season, unwilling to show up for non-marquee games and, perhaps, simply unable to treat professional basketball games before the postseason as anything more than glorified practice. This, of course, is dangerous behavior. Bad habits ingrained during the season tend to transfer into the Playoffs, and the league is so good these days that — particularly in the West — every team can get hot for a week and catch a sleeping giant … well … sleeping.
Many of those who think the Lakers can still sleep-walk their way to the Finals on talent alone cite previous Laker squads as reasons that this year’s team will be fine. The Shaq/Kobe teams notoriously didn’t show up for long stretches of the regular season. For Diesel, it was often just a way to get into shape.
But, say the devil’s advocates, these teams didn’t turn it on in April or May. They got serious in February and March and put on their executioner masks right after the All-Star break, using the final third of the season as a tune-up for the more-important games when the quest for the trophy began.
This year’s team didn’t do that. They kicked off the year great and looked like the proverbial, unbeatable Philistine all the way up until February, at which time some serious injuries and some serious lethargy started to make them look decidedly above-average. Sure, above-average is a commendable thing to be in this League — the Bucks, Blazers, Bobcats and Thunder all had very successful seasons being exactly that — but when you’re supposed to be the unassailable juggernaut of the Association, that’s not where you want to be. It’s not where you want to be at all, in fact.
Then again, it was obvious to anyone who watched LA’s complete undressing of OKC in Game 1 today that the words “average” and “Lakers” don’t belong in the same sentence. They flat out kicked the Thunder’s ass while making Kevin Durant look like a scoring champ in name only.
They flipped the switch, Mega Maid-style. And it looks like Thunder Nation will soon experience death by suffocation in an oxygen-less world where passing lanes close before the ball is ever thrown, collapsing defenders cut off all drives to the hoop, unstoppable penetrators create easy buckets and dagger jumpers fall from the sky like acid rain.
Now, Lakers fans just have to hope that that switch can’t be flipped back from “suck” to “blow.”
Don’t worry … The Thunder are still looking for a game plan.