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Scott Howard-Cooper

Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson
For whatever reason, Phil Jackson's message isn't resonating with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

With Lakers folding, Jackson faces a stunning end to career

Posted May 6 2011 9:46AM

DALLAS -- There must be some Zen solution, some meditation, some metaphysical explanation, some chant, some cleansing of souls, some books to pass out, some joining of hands -- something to save the Lakers before it is officially too late.

Instead, there is Phil Jackson.

Nothing mystical. Just the most decorated coach in NBA history, the man at the helm of 11 of the last 20 champions, suddenly facing an early playoff exit because his club is incapable of stringing two good games together. The coach who preaches the mental is moving prematurely closer to retirement because the Lakers' heads are not right.

The team of back-to-back NBA titles and three consecutive Western Conference crowns is shockingly down 0-2 to the Mavericks. They can't muster a champions' focus. Well, Dirk Nowitzki & Co. may have something to do with it, too, but the Lakers have spent a month trying to escape the haze, with no success. The end of the regular season, the start of the playoffs, and they're still wandering.

Jackson might go out like ... this?

In the ultimate contradiction to his legacy, in the least symbolic way, he just might go out like this. The Lakers need to win four of the next five, with three on the road, to avoid second-round elimination for the first time since 2007. It's the kind of comeback that is not possible with the current approach and execution. They need a big recovery just to make the series competitive.

If most any other organization were getting bum-rushed like this, appearing unprepared for the most important time of the season, the coach would be getting measured for an apple in the mouth and a spit. Jackson has so far escaped such level of scrutiny.

Part of that is that his Lakers already have been drenched in success. Part is that there are easier targets for blame -- china doll Pau Gasol, Ron Artest after his cheap shot on J.J. Barea that earned a suspension for Friday's Game 3 at American Airlines Center, the bench that hasn't produced. Part is that this moment probably wasn't far off from happening either of the previous two seasons that ended with downtown parades. Jackson deserves credit for holding it together this long.

Yet the inescapable truth is that Jackson is not reaching the Lakers, whether because his message has worn old or because nobody would reach these guys. The fact is, this has gone bad on his watch. It could be a humbling exit to a Hall of Fame career.

Jackson was asked Thursday, before the team jetted out of Southern California for two games here, whether it has been a poorly delivered message or players simply not executing. There was no hesitation in the answer.

"It's being delivered and I think there's some matter of confusion out there," he said. "We're trying to straighten that out in the last two days."

OK, but is there a disconnect?

"I think there's spaces on the floor that are confusing to our players," Jackson replied. "There's various spots on the floor that we change our rotation, and I think it's confused the players a little. We had to get that straight again as to what that has to be."

Players being confused in the playoffs not generally being a good thing, the Lakers obviously have issues.

But they also have a history of recovering from playoff spin-outs, though not against opponents as good as the Mavericks. There must be some Zen solution, before it is too late to save the season and the exit.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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