By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com
Posted Oct 13 2010 2:27PM
It's a Heat world these days and the rest of us are just living in it. But, oh, by the way, another team has won back-to-back championships and is coming off a satisfying offseason of its own. Based in Los Angeles. Wears purple and gold. Not unfamiliar working around crazy storylines. Kobe somebody.
This is an unusual moment even by the considerable standards of Lakers strangeness, with the best team in the league two seasons in a row loaded for the three-peat quest even if no one is noticing them like before. The biggest spotlights are aimed toward Florida and the leftover preseason rubbernecking goes to Carmelo Anthony and the moving van idling outside his house, and the dominant franchise of the last three years is having to fall in line.
We have all crash landed in the bizarro world. The Lakers are the stable group, so known after an offseason without a transaction to alter the opening lineup, so grounded after not flinching through two elimination games against the Celtics, so understated.
Now go back to feeding your unicorn.
There will be no literal translation; the season will open Oct. 26 against the Rockets and the outcomes will count, not the perception. But imagine being the Lakers. Two All-Stars, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, one key member of the national team that just won a gold medal at the world championships, Lamar Odom, 57 wins in the regular season, 16 more in the playoffs, Ron Artest on defense, Derek Fisher in the locker room, Phil Jackson on the bench -- and they are so four months ago?
"We're a confident group, and no matter other teams are saying or what other people are saying about who's gonna win and all that, we know we're the defending champions and winning the championship comes through us," said reserve small forward Luke Walton. "Just like when Boston beat us a couple years ago and people were saying how much better we got. We still had to go through them to win a championship. So we're not concerned with that at all."
With that perception game.
"I think there will be maybe times during the season where [the Heat are] the toast of the town and everything is focused on them and people won't be talking much about us, and that's fine," Fisher said. "But with Phil's experience and myself and Kobe and a lot of our guys... we have a lot of guys that have crossed over into another part of their career. With that type of maturity, there's really not much concern about what other people are doing. The concern for us is within our own locker room and within our own gym. Those will be things we need to remain focused on throughout the season.
"Who's the favorite? Well, we're the champs so we view ourselves as the favorite. I don't think that will ever change as long as we have the guys that we have. It doesn't matter what other teams have been able to do. We feel confident about what we can accomplish as a team, but we know there'll be hard work behind it."
No other team will handle potential distractions better, mostly because the Lakers are so practiced. No other team has a historic closer like Bryant. No other team has the lure of winning three in a row for the first time since L.A. '02 or being the first since L.A. '85 to reach four consecutive Finals.
There has never been a start to a season like it in the Kobe-Phil era, or even the Kobe-Shaq lovebird years before that. This low-key bit may take getting used to, but think if it works. Think of what the Lakers could do with all the extra energy that used to go to living the soap-opera existence.
The Lakers playing with a clear head -- no one has had to contemplate the ramifications before.
Now the entire league does. They're uncommonly settled, as prone to running down as before in the obvious concern but also bolstered by the summer of free-agent spending and retaining Jackson, and letting others deal with distractions for a change, all with the comfort of knowing who won the last two titles.
"People know where we're at," Jackson said.
Of course. They're the Lakers, still.
1. KOBE BRYANT'S HEALTH
That's obviously the case any season, but this is the one when he's coming off a postseason of pressing injury concerns.
2. THE RON ARTEST FACTOR
He said he is more comfortable in the second season with the offense. The Lakers getting his 2009-10 playoffs all 2010-11 would be huge.
3. PERIMETER ACCURACY
For all their offensive weapons, the Lakers finished 18th in the league in shooting last season and 24th in three-point percentage.
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LAST YEAR: 57-25, 1st in Pacific
FINISH: Won NBA Championship
2009-10 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2009-10 Stats|
DEREK FISHER, GUARD
7.5 PPG | 2.1 RPG | 2.5 APG
The intangibles -- leadership, experience, dependability in the clutch -- will have a greater impact than anything on the stat sheet.
KOBE BRYANT, GUARD
27.0 PPG | 5.4 RPG | 5.0 APG
Still so great that he's not just beating all the opponents anymore. It has reached the point that he is posterizing Father Time.
RON ARTEST, FORWARD
11.0 PPG | 4.3 RPG | 3.0 APG
Still a good defender and a passionate worker, but needs to remind the league he can still be a great defender. That standing has slipped.
PAU GASOL, FORWARD
18.3 PPG | 11.3 RPG | 1.7 BPG
Talented, versatile, able to often accept a secondary role in the offense – he is the perfect complementary weapon for the Lakers and Bryant.
ANDREW BYNUM, CENTER
15.0 PPG | 8.3 RPG | 1.4 BPG
Will miss at least the first couple weeks of the regular season recovering from offseason surgery, but says knee problems will be in the past.
|Matt Barnes||6-7||226||F||Kobe Bryant loves the way he plays with a chip on his shoulder.|
|Steve Blake||6-3||172||G||Joins Shannon Brown as depth behind Derek Fisher at the point.|
|Lamar Odom||6-10||230||F||Destined for the opening lineup early in the season as Andrew Bynum heals.|
ADDED: Devin Ebanks, Derrick Caracter, Steve Blake, Derek Fisher, Theo Ratliff, Matt Barnes
LOST: Jordan Farmar, Josh Powell
PHIL JACKSON, COACH
Can this really be it, after all the games and also the basketball games? Can he really get through the door with Kobe Bryant grabbing one leg and Derek Fisher the other? The case of Jackson and his planned retirement will be one of the ongoing storylines. His impact on the league, and obviously the Lakers, has been that big.
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