Is head coach Mike D’Antoni simply a bad fit? Are they reeling because Dwight Howard hasn’t recovered from offseason back surgery, and now has a shoulder problem on top of it? What about Steve Nash’s absence for the first couple months? Is Pau Gasol broken mentally? Is the bench that poor?
Here’s another possibility: Maybe a significant portion of the problem involves the best guy on the team.
Kobe Bryant is leading the league in scoring at 30.5 points per contest. Clearly, at the age of 34, he can still fill it up.
But it’s becoming clear that these Lakers are having a chemistry problem. After the Lakers lost at home to Denver Sunday night, 112-105, Howard remarked, “We’re not one right now.” Bryant himself acknowledged a lack of unity when he said this: "I think it's fine for us to boil over a little bit. It's fine to get a little chippy. I kind of get the sense in this locker room that that's finally starting to happen."
There was even a report that Howard and Bryant went at it in the lockerroom, although those around the team are vehemently denying that.
I’m not questioning Bryant’s ability to play basketball. He remains one of the game’s greats. And he’s about as clutch as it gets.
But basketball is a team game, and he’s never been great at recognizing that.
There’s been the sense all season that Howard is at least perplexed and sometimes outwardly annoyed at Bryant’s decision-making on the floor. Even though they won two titles together, Gasol has spent many a stretch during games standing on the floor with three other teammates as they watch Kobe go one-on-one, or one-on-two, and waste possessions.
When comparing Kobe to Michael Jordan, ask yourself this: Was Jordan ever close to being as polarizing a figure as Kobe? Did people scratch their heads over Jordan’s shot selection? Did Jordan cause Phil Jackson to call him “uncoachable” in a book? Did Jordan have anything less than complete control over his teammates? Did Jordan openly feud with a teammate like Kobe did with Shaq? Did Jordan rip the owner and demand to be traded when things got difficult?
Kobe Bryant played a major role in five championships for the Lakers. For that, he should be commended. But those teams were strong enough to overcome his level of egocentrism. Right now the Lakers need leadership, and he’s not giving it to them.
I don’t mean buckets. He can produce many of those, because he’s extremely good at what he does and he shoots a lot. I mean leadership, as in pulling his troops together and getting the best out of them.
In that regard, he’ll never be Michael Jordan.
Wilson has already done what Ryan hasn't
Both Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, two of the most ballyhooed rookie quarterbacks in recent years, are now out of the postseason while another, Russell Wilson, advances to play next week.
Super Bowl XLVII
First off, a little perspective on Luck and Griffin. Here are just some of the quarterbacks who didn’t make the playoffs: Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Jay Cutler, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger. And they’re just the ones who quarterbacked teams with enough talent to compete for a postseason berth. That’s not counting experienced guys like Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, Matthew Stafford and Michael Vick, as well as others like Cam Newton and Sam Bradford.
What Luck and Griffin did in piloting their clubs into the postseason was truly amazing, and the major effects from their losses this past weekend was to whet the appetites of football fanatics everywhere who can’t wait to see what they have up their jersey sleeves in the future.
Then there is Wilson, who at 5-11 was a draft afterthought. Instead, he played like a veteran in D.C. on Sunday, and will now attempt to keep his team on a roll when the Seahawks invade Atlanta next Sunday. That will be interesting: A surprise rookie who plays like he’s been in the NFL for 10 years against Matt Ryan, the Falcons’ fifth-year QB who was supposed to be the second coming (a nickname like “Matty Ice” suggests he should be flawless at critical moments) and is now under great pressure to produce.
A former No. 3 overall pick seeking his first NFL playoff victory (Ryan) in five seasons of trying versus a No. 75 pick overall (Wilson), a third-rounder, who in his first season already has a postseason triumph to his credit.
With Luck, Griffin and especially Wilson, there is really only one word that sums them up: Wow.
A very quiet NBA rock star
Have you noticed how quiet it is in Miami?
No light shows introducing the Big Three. No pronouncements about multiple titles. No speculation over Erik Spoelstra’s job status.
Just quiet. In fact, the 2012-13 Miami Heat might be the quietest rock star team in NBA history.
I guess it’s a result of a combination of factors. For one, it’s hard to match the intensity of the scrutiny that came the first year that LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were together. It felt like everybody in the world was staring through that fishbowl.
Second, the Heat finally met expectations and won the NBA championship last year. So the pressure is off in general, and on LeBron in particular.
Now, everything from here on is gravy for the Heat. Or if you prefer, salsa.
There is also the idea that other NBA storylines have pushed the Heat to the side. The Knicks got off to a hot start. The Nets are in Brooklyn. The Lakers are imploding. The Clippers are breezing. OKC is still cooking. The Spurs are still excellent. The Warriors are a mild surprise. The Wizards and Bobcats stink.
Through it all, the Heat leads the Southeast at 23-9 — best record in the Eastern Conference — and are stealthily putting themselves in a position to repeat.
Ordinarily, the Heat would be big news, if things weren’t so darned quiet.
NFL needs to crack down on taunting
In college football, the rules against taunting sometimes border on the preposterous. If your mere posture seems insulting to an opponent, you get flagged. It’s a little too much.
But in the NFL, it’s not nearly enough.
Some of the taunting that went on Sunday in the Seahawks-Redskins game looked like something out of pro wrestling. I expected Richard Sherman to scissors somebody with his legs. It was a hard-fought game, but it took on the veneer of something thuggish with all the outwardly expressed malice.
Before he ran into a public relations pothole with the whole Bountygate thing, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had been credited with cleaning up the game. Whenever players committed acts on or off the field that stained the league, Goodell came down hard. And that’s the way it should be. The NFL’s image is a little cleaner today because of Goodell’s efforts.
Taunting should be his next project. He needs to lean on the rule-makers to institute harsher measures if players snarl at each other, gesture toward each other, or make any kind of menacing moves. This is the most popular game in the country, an entertainment juggernaut, and yet some of its practitioners act like ex-cons at a biker rally.
College football goes a little too far. But the NFL doesn’t go nearly far enough.
A game of pepper:
Michael Ventre is a regular contributor to NBCSports.com. Follow him on Twitter http://twitter.com/#!/MichaelVentre44
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Bosh: 'We'll see who hits first'
Heat forward Chris Bosh talks about what could be a very physical Game 6 stating, "Hit them in the mouth, throat and their eyes." Miami coach Erik Spoelstra says the opposing Spurs "attack you ... but we do the same thing."
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