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Sekou Smith

Pau Gasol (left) and Dirk Nowitzki
Pau Gasol's numbers in the postseason are decidedly lower than they were in the season.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Lakers have a ton of problems, not much time to fix them


Posted May 5 2011 12:03PM

LOS ANGELES -- Maybe Ron Artest should have saved that right cross clothesline he unleashed on Dallas Mavericks' flyweight Jose Barea on Wednesday for one of his teammates.

He could have knocked some sense into Andrew Bynum, who decided 90 games into the Los Angeles Lakers' three-peat bid to announce to the world that his team has 'trust issues" that are "deeply rooted."

A solid lick to the head might also have served to wake Pau Gasol up, whose disappearing act in these playoffs, and particularly in this Western Conference semifinal with Dallas, could very well become the defining moment of his Lakers' tenure. Gasol was booed repeatedly throughout the second half by the Lakers' faithful.

And Artest did have the option of turning that hand on himself. It might have saved him form the suspension for Friday night's Game 3 in Dallas that's sure to come. And it would have been simply the latest blow in a barrage of punches the Lakers have absorbed this week now that they're in a 0-2 hole in this series with their title hopes fading by the minute.

Whatever "deeply rooted trust issues" the two-time defending champion Lakers are grappling with right now, the Mavericks are immune to. The Lakers' Cinco de Mayo meltdown is foreign territory to a Mavericks team that is flowing with confidence, from the dirty blond tips atop Dirk Nowitzki's head all the way down to the mini-me sized Converse on Barea's lightning quick feet -- the same ones he used to shred the Lakers' defense with in his dazzling clutch performance in Wednesday's Game 2 win.

Barea's performance is symbolic of a team that has embraced the collective and plays with the "respect-us-or-else" chip on its shoulder that super sixth man Jason Terry said defines this group.

"Smallest man on the court probably has the biggest heart on the court," Mavericks backup center Brendan Haywood said. "He's not afraid to take it into the giants."

The Lakers are playing like anything but. The last time the Lakes lost the first two games of a series as the home team was 1977, when they lost to the eventual champion Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference finals.

L.A. faces some daunting history, too. Only three teams have lost the first two games of a best-of-seven series at home and come back to win the series. They are the 1969 Lakers, the '94 Rockets and the '05 Mavericks.

Kobe Bryant acknowledged Bynum's claims of trust issues, though he clarified them, and then insisted that the Lakers recognize the degree of difficulty they face in trying to continue to chase their three-peat dream.

"No, it's hard," he said. "But you couldn't possibly expect this to be easy. If you want to make history, you have to do historic things."

The Lakers' recent playoff history probably has as much to do with their current, exhausted state of affairs as anything. They've played 75 postseason games during this three-plus year stretch that already includes three straight trips to the NBA Finals. That's nearly an entire extra season of basketball stuffed into that span.

That might help explain what is ailing Gasol, who has the added issue of getting a double dose of Nowitzki on defense in this series. Gasol's not even playing up to his own regular-season standards in these playoffs, averaging 13.6 points and 7.8 rebounds the last eight games compared to the 18.8 and 10.2 he put in the 82 games before.

"I tried to be aggressive but there's not much of a flow right now in our offense and that's killing everybody's rhythm and everybody's confidence a little bit," a clearly wounded Gasol said in trying to make sense of his own and his team's struggles. "We have to move the ball, change sides of the floor and make our triangle work for us instead of when the ball gets stuck too much on one side."

Even Lakers coach Phil Jackson, Gasol's most vocal public defender before Game 2, had a hard time explaining away Gasol's struggles this time around.

"He missed some foul shots, we missed some foul shots as a team ... he missed some open shots; he missed a layup that was blocked at the rim because he didn't dunk it," Jackson said. "There are some things that obviously didn't look good out there for Pau, but he worked, he worked. He was one of the kids that looked tired."

When you consider the beating he took from the home crowd in the second half of Game 2, a weekend trip to Dallas doesn't seem any more daunting than what Gasol and the Lakers have faced already.

"To me it's no different," Bryant said. "We're not very good at home the last two games, so going to Dallas might do us some damn good."

But a change of scenery won't necessarily change the fact that the Mavericks are playing like a unit, a team with championship-caliber chemistry and defensive swagger to match. The Lakers? They suddenly look lost.

"If we go to the root of what's really hurting us and not candy-coat things and not talk around issues, then we'll be fine. If not, then we won't," Bynum said. "I think we've addressed them before, but now is the time to really sit down and ask yourself the tough questions."

If the Lakers are going to snap out of it, they'd better do it soon. Because time, like so many things in this series, is something the Lakers simply don't have much of right now.

Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and the author of NBA.com's Hang Time blog.

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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