For the second straight season, the Los Angeles Lakers have alternated fits of great play with heaps of worrying play, seemingly turning the figurative switch on and off as their shot selection and iffy defense often gets in the way of another potential championship run.
Unlike last season, though, the Lakers are facing a major challenge in the second round. A Dallas Mavericks team with legitimate Finals aspirations has not only matched the defending champs with their play, but they've also taken the first two games of the Western Conference semis from Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, no less. In order to move past the Mavs and into the NBA's final four, the Lakers have to win four games in five tries against Dallas, with three of those games being played in Texas.
You think Phil Jackson's worried? You think these hands have been soaking in Ivory Liquid?
Nah. The owner of 13 championship rings (11 as a coach, two as a player) doesn't expect to go down without a fight, or say bye-bye in Dallas.
"I'd like to cry but I can't right now," he said, still continuing a light tone. "It's a game and we know it's a game and we play it and we play it hard. And we anticipate winning in Dallas."
So he hasn't coached his last game at Staples Center?
"We'll be back Tuesday," he said. That would be the day of Game 5.
It's not exactly the showiest of guarantees. Going on record to tell the press that you "anticipate" the Mavericks failing in their attempts to beat the defending champs in four consecutive games is a pretty safe way of going about saving your season.
What isn't as safe is Phil's attempts at hilarious wordplay. When Andrew Bynum brought up Los Angeles' "trust issues" following the Game 2 loss, well, Phil?
"I thought he was speaking about trusses, and my dad wore a truss," Jackson said. "I don't know the trust issue."
Pretty goofy for a guy who could be three days removed from coaching the final game of his career. Then again, consider the circumstances.
It's very clear that we've completely underestimated the Dallas Mavericks, and while I always considered them worthy of making the Finals (I believe "given the right matchup" was the caveat I usually used in BDL Chats), I also had Portland and then Los Angeles ending their season. I wasn't alone, as all but local Mavericks scribes and SI's Zach Lowe seemed to dismiss Dallas as just another really good version of what we saw in the first round from them last season.
But these are still the Lakers. And I don't mean "the Lakers" in terms of status and history and some sort of lame batch of gravitas. No, I mean "the Lakers" as "the team with the most talented frontcourt troika in the NBA, working with an offense that can be impossible to stop at times, with a dynamic scorer in the backcourt that can dominate games should his wheels ever start to spin properly."
And after reading that last quote, you can see why I just went with "the Lakers" initially.
Los Angeles doesn't even have to take both in Dallas. Winning one and heading back to Staples (where the champs, admittedly, are 1-3 in the postseason) down 3-1 isn't the worst thing in the world, and quite doable when you figure that the Lakers would then be one win away from sending things back to Texas for Game 6 with all the pressure on Dallas. It's hard to beat a great team four times in seven tries, and the Lakers are a great team. They're going up against a great team, but despite the long odds, Los Angeles isn't to be dismissed.