Well, Lakers fans can take a big sigh of relief, at least until Sunday afternoon. After a season that felt endless due to drama on and off the court, the Lakers have found themselves in a familiar place: the playoffs. After one of most exhausting seasons for the Lakers and their fans, it is a relief to say goodbye to the regular season and hello to the postseason.
Yet, the journey to get to the postseason didn’t follow the expected script that was written in the late summer months of 2012 by fans and the majority around the basketball community.
Instead, the Lakers’ script from this season felt like a drama-filled, post-apocoliptical setting that threw the protagonist (the Lakers) through every loop and obstacle that the basketball gods could manage to think of. Countless injuries, a media circus, personnel changes, system changes and chemistry problems were among the headlining conflicts facing the protagonist.
The protagonist always survives and comes through, right? The Lakers have certainly survived the regular season, but have sustained major blows along the way. The Lakers’ main character and the ultimate hero, Kobe Bryant, has gone down and won’t be ready for a return (hopefully) until the beginning of next season.
However, Kobe might be absent from the court and locker room physically, but his heart, drive and leadership is ever present within every player. “Coach Vino” now resembles Jor-El speaking or tweeting to Superman (Dwight Howard), Pau Gasol and the rest of his team from his fortress (his home). His words are guiding and advising his teammates to the path of success.
Kobe’s season-ending injury may have been the call-to-action that the rest of the squad needed. In a hero story, the leader of the pack goes down and inspires others to rise to the occasion. That’s exactly what the Lakers need to do to compete with their latest adversary in their script, the San Antonio Spurs.
The Lakers have proved that they can accomplish this task with the last two games of the regular season. Ironically, one of those games was against the Spurs. The Lakers had a new group of heroes step up and take on this challenge. One was expected (Dwight Howard). One was renewed (Pau Gasol). One was a pleasant surprise (Steve Blake).
Without relying on the known heroics of Kobe Bryant, the Lakers have collectively risen to the occasion. While this was starting to happen this month (the Lakers went 7-1) with Kobe on the court, it has been a feat for the team to finish the season with the ultimate momentum that pushed them into the seventh seed in the West.
They finished the regular season as a team. That has been one of the biggest differences between how they started the season, and how they ended the season. Take the following quotes from the Lakers into account. When Dwight Howard was asked how the Lakers approached the comeback win on Wednesday, he responded (per Dave McMenamin of ESPNLA):
“…we stayed strong, we stayed together and we won for each other.”
The big contributor as of late, Steve Blake, added:
“We’re playing together like a family,” Blake said.
Pau Gasol, who has been brilliant as he has returned to vintage Pau, is the ultimate team guy. Additionally, he echoed the sentiment that everyone needs to step up in the postseason, saying (per Melissa Rohlin of the Los Angeles Times):
“I like stepping up to big games and I would never hide,” Gasol said. “I always try to be the guy that I can be in those games and, throughout my career, that’s what I love to do.”
Mike D’Antoni noted the need for every player to step up and play as a team of one instead of a team of individuals. Per Arash Markazi of ESPNLA, D’Antoni said:
“One of our problems is that everybody wanted to be the guy and we just couldn’t do that,” D’Antoni said. “Now other guys have stepped up and they’ve always been the guy wherever they’ve been.”
For the majority of the regular season, every one of the players would talk to the media either at practice or in post-games and say the right things. They knew what had to be done; it just wasn’t coming together. Of course, injuries played a huge part in their struggles, but in games that should have been easily won even with injuries, the Lakers were missing the mark.
Did they rely on Kobe’s spectacular performance and heroics of this season too often? Yes. Was Mike D’Antoni’s original system wrong for the personnel of this team? Yes. Were the strengths of key players being used in the wrong way? Yes.
However, the postseason will eat you alive if you use excuses. The good news is that these main issues have for the most part been addressed. There is nothing you can do about injuries. When it comes down to it, the only way these Lakers can succeed in the first round is if they step up, rise and play as a collective team.
To me, you win as a team, or you lose as a team. The Lakers have a chance to write more pages to their script for the 2012-13 season. The story of the protagonist continues, for at least four more battles.
VIDEO: Dwight Howard On Playoffs and Team Feeding Off His Energy
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