Old Lakers Play Like the Old Lakers

O, ye of little faith. Now what do you think of the Lakers? Too old? Too tired? How about too good?

There is nothing the sporting world does faster than jumping on bandwagons, unless it's jumping to conclusions. Lose a game, lose two games, and instead of talking about shots falling there's weeping and wailing about the sky falling.

Especially in Los Angeles, which, as expected in a community built on the Hollywood myth, overreacts with melodramatic despair. If it isn't overreacting with melodramatic elation.

Indeed, the Lakers were whipped by the Oklahoma City Thunder in consecutive games. At Oklahoma City. But all that did was even the playoff series at 2-2. With the next one in L.A.

Those who have been around know never to judge a series by one game or even two. Not when they are best-of-seven. Not when one of the teams is the defending NBA champion.

"Who said our backs are against the wall?'' wondered Kobe Bryant after a Monday practice. "It's a 2-2 series. What is going on around here?''

What went on Tuesday night was a game so one-sided that figuratively it was over roughly halfway through the first quarter when the Lakers, whose tired, weary, aged team, had a 14-1 lead. That was after they had an 8-0 lead and before they had a 24-8 lead.

At the official end, Los Angeles was in front, 111-87, an emphatic rebuttal to all suggestions that the Laker Era was finished. It isn't. And it won't be, even if the Thunder take Game 6.

Too many of us think with our hearts. Or spleens. The Cleveland Cavaliers are not going to lose, at least until they play the Lakers in the finals. The Lakers are not going to lose, at least until they play the Cavaliers in the finals.

The Dodgers look like they'll be also-rans, nobody in the west side of L.A. really cares about the Angels, out there in the boondocks, and without an NFL franchise, the only team that matters is the Lakers.

Southern California was in a state of fear. What now? How will we ever go on if the Lakers don't go on? As Dr. Phil might say, just another needless worry.

This was a paragraph in a Los Angeles Times story. Tuesday morning. "A Lakers loss Tuesday means the unthinkable - a possible elimination game Friday in Oklahoma City.'' It's hard to define sporting results as unthinkable, but now we can unthink that possibility.

The essence of playoff basketball is adjustments. The chess game sometimes trumps the hoops game. If Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol can't defend Kevin Durant, then call on Ron Artest. And Kobe is more than willing to take on Russell Westbrook.

Old Mo, momentum, never can be discounted. The crowd is your crowd at home. An 8-0 lead before you blink changes all the dynamics and the psychology. Now the other team is rattled. Now the other team is getting drilled.

Just because the Lakers are older, doesn't mean they still aren't better. Or that the Thunder, not only challenged but bewildered, don't start realizing the Lakers aren't better. The longer a series goes, the less the chance of an upset.

"We wanted to make a statement,'' Gasol, who had 25 points, said in a literal statement. Their statement, as well as his, is duly recorded.

"I think we needed a game like this,'' was another Gasol comment.

Of course they did. But it was inevitable they would get a game like that. Too much talent, in Bryant, Gasol, Bynum, Artest. Too much experience. Too much time after the loss on Saturday not to get ready to win on Tuesday.

"I enjoy a challenge,'' said Bryant, alluding to his defense on Westbrook. "He's been playing sensational. If we're going to be eliminated, I didn't want to go into summer thinking I could have done something about it.''

He did plenty. The Lakers did more than enough. They aren't going to be eliminated, not for a while. They may not be a dynasty, but they remain a power.

"We're obviously not as fast as they are,'' Kobe Bryant had conceded a couple of days back. "Their speed is remarkable.''

So was the response of the Lakers. As you should have known.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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