2011 Playoff Postcards: Dallas

Postcards from New Orleans
Text by Mike Trudell, Photos by Ty Nowell
May 8th, 2011

1 After controlling Game 1 before blowing the lead late -- and still missing a win by just two inches -- the Lakers faltered in the second half of Game 2 to dig a very much unexpected 2-0 hole. Then the team flight to Dallas was unexpectedly delayed by an hour and a half, but it was still a confident, focused group walking into the Texas air.

2 After quickly stashing our bags, Ty and I scurried to a burger joint across the street to beat closing time. Already there was Lamar Odom, undeterred by a prominent “Beat L.A.” sign ... though in fairness, happy/humorous is his general state of mind. Odom ordered a chicken sandwich (fun since the place is known for burgers).

3 Ty’s next meal was at the dining establishment next to the burger stop (proximity is everything on the road), and Odom was there too! No. Actually, this LAL fan was heckled by his buddy in a Dirk jersey and the workers behind the counter. His response: screaming “Let’s Go Lakers!!” at the top of his lungs.

4 Here’s American Airlines Arena. Since the 2008 Finals, the Lakers had won at least one road game, and often two, in nine consecutive playoff series: Utah, Houston, Denver, Orlando, Oklahoma City, Utah again, Phoenix, Boston and New Orleans. Plus they’d won in Dallas in March. Why wouldn’t Phil Jackson and Co. be confident?

5 Ron Artest closed out on a Derek Fisher three at Game 3’s shootaround session on Friday morning. Many players like having teammates or (more often) assistant coaches run out to contest shots, simulating what it will be like in that evening’s game. Halfcourt shot contests are also a constant ... after drills are finished.

6 Phil Jackson smiles through his second-to-last pregame presser. For as long as I cover the NBA, I’m not sure there will ever be a coach more consistently interesting to listen to than Jackson. He’s a reporter’s dream, sure to deliver a variety of basketball information and amusing thoughts that write themselves.

7 We found it quite fitting of Dallas, Texas, to feature NBC’s “Friday Night Lights” on one TV and Game 3 of Bulls – Hawks on the other in the AAC media room. We were somewhat disappointed, however, that the meal was chicken parmesan instead of chicken fried steak or chicken, the latter more fitting to the “Great State.”

8 I dare you to name an NBA jumbotron dance off in which the combined age is older than these two guys. Just admit it, you can’t. I’d tell you who won, but I was busy tweeting about the Lakers — who’d controlled Game 3 by dominating the paint — being up 79-71 with 9:28 left in the fourth quarter.

9 Much like Game 1, L.A. didn’t look much like the Lakers down the stretch of Game 3, resulting in a really tough-to-take loss (Jackson said they “played too well to lose") and a 3-0 series deficit. The next morning, walking to practice, we crossed “Lamar Street,” which made us think of the team hotel in Houston, also on “Lamar Street,” somehow.

10 Among the most interesting things to do in Dallas is check out the Sixth Floor Museum at the Texas School Book Depository at Dealey Plaza, from where Lee Harvey Oswald is thought to have assassinated President John F. Kennedy. This wall-sized photograph is of JFK just before the shots rang out.

11 An awesome looking couple* poses here just few feet from where JFK was shot, the X marking the exact spot covered by the gentleman’s 2009 Lakers championship hat.
*Full disclosure, they’re my parents.

12 Prior to Saturday’s practice, the Lakers expressed confidence that the team’s focus was only on winning Game 4, and not about trying to become the first team to ever climb out of an 0-3 hole. Still, the ways in which L.A. lost both Games 1 and 3 — not to mention three straight long grinds to the Finals — had taken a mental toll.

13 Phil Jackson neglected to take his usual facetious shots at a road city, though he did randomly mention the plethora of cattle in Dallas. We didn’t really get around much, though, so we settled for this guy.

14 You know how STAPLES Center never seems to get a night off, with the NBA, NHL, concerts and shows constantly rolling through? AAC on Saturday prepped for Arena League football. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get a photo of Ty’s diving catch of my 60-yard bomb into the opposite end zone.

15 (Gonna let Ty handle this one:) You often see custom jerseys around the arena, usually executed with varying degrees of success. Not often do you see them with a first and last name on the back. Not often do you see it with the name of an active player from another team. Basically, this one wasn't very successful.

16 Jackson on the Mavs in Game 4: “I don’t think I’ve seen a team play to that level.” It started to get ridiculous in the 2nd Q, when Jason Terry hit five of his NBA-record tying nine 3-pointers to put the Mavs up 24. Terry, Peja Stojakovic (6-of-6 from three) and J.J. Barea scored a ridiculous 75 points themselves in a 122-86 Mavs blowout. Incredible.

17 The greatest coach in NBA history, at his final press conference, was actually relieved: “[It] feels really good to be ending this season to be honest with you.” Four of his five kids (three wearing hats they made for his 10th coaching title) looked on from his left, moments after an emotional gathering with their dad in an arena back room.

18 Ty snapped this picture of me getting onto the team plane for the final flight of a 2010-11 season that ended sooner than most expected. I think of how many times I’ve made that flight home to Los Angeles in the past three seasons of 41 regular season road games, two straight trips to the Finals and these abbreviated playoffs ... but for some perspective, Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher have been doing it since 1996, and Phil and his staff? Well, who’s even counting anymore.

19 As the plane left Dallas behind, Terry and Stojakovic hit two more threes in the arena (pictured to the right). Too soon? The flight home featured a mixed vibe of disappointment for this postseason’s failure and appreciation for all that was accomplished by the group in the past few years. While team staffers and support personnel wanted to say thanks to Phil Jackson, the coach had a wink, joke or anecdote for everyone, turning the mood towards the positive.

20 No one needed a positive word from Phil Jackson more than Pau Gasol, who struggled through his worst stretch as a Laker in these playoffs after providing consistent, All-Star level play since being acquired in February of 2008. With Chuck Person listening on, Gasol nodded repeatedly while Jackson spoke, taking in what we can imagine were words of reflection, of wisdom, of conclusion.

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