The Los Angeles Lakers: I'll admit it. I wrote off the Mavericks before this series even started. Lots of people did. Including, it seems, the Lakers.
But here we are. Not on Planet Earth. I'll tell you that much. It's Bizarro World. The Nuggets are better off without Carmelo Anthony. Danny Ainge willingly busted up a potential championship contender midseason. The Bulls have the best record in the league but look like poop in the playoffs. The Pacers became tough guys. Zach Randolph became superclutch. The Grizzlies dominated the Spurs before sending them home early. And the Lakers are down 2-0 to the Dallas Mavericks.
Despite having homecourt advantage.
Said Dirk Nowitzki: "If you would have told me before that we were going to win both games, it would have been hard to believe."
The situation is both shocking and...not all that shocking. L.A. has been turning it on and off all season. On some nights, Kobe looks like Kobe. Other nights, it appears he's lost half a step. When the season started, Pau Gasol was playing like an MVP candidate. After a month and a half of 40+ minutes per game, he looked like The Old Guy in a pickup league, exhausted and barely getting by on experience and instinct. The bench started off so hot Kevin McHale started calling them "The Killer Bees" but their production dropped off dramatically.
And Ron Artest still looks absolutely lost in Phil Jackson's Triangle.
No, the problems didn't start today, and Andrew Bynum knows it.
Said Bynum: "It's deeply rooted at this point. It's obvious that we have trust issues, individually. All 13 of our guys have trust issues right now. I think it's quite obvious to anyone watching the game -- hesitation on passes, and defensively we're not being a good teammate because he wasn't there for you before -- little things. And unless we come out and discuss them, nothing is going to change."
Countered Kobe: "I think the trust that he's referring to is being able to help each other on the defensive end of the floor. You saw a lot of layups. He gets frustrated when he supports a guard coming off the screen-and-roll and nobody supports him."
The Lakers can talk about defense all they want, but it's not like the Mavericks were setting the world on fire. They went 12-for-21 at the rim, which is good, but not great. Nowitzki was fantastic (24 points, 9-for-16, 2-for-3 from downtown), but Jasons Kidd and Terry combined to shoot 6-for-22. And Peja Stojakovic was flashing back to 2002 with his 2-for-9 (and 0-for-5 on threes) night.
As a team, Dallas shot 42 percent, went 8-for-25 from beyond the arc and got outrebounded 44-39.
L.A.'s defense did a credible job. Their offense, on the other hand, did not. Talk about way off: The Lakers converted only 41 percent of their field goals, shot 2-for-20 on threes and bricked nine of their 20 free throws. Kobe had one of his classic 9-for-20 nights (including 1-for-5 on treys). Gasol (5-for-12), Artest (4-for-10) and Derek Fisher (2-for-7) couldn't have located the basket with a police dog. The bench went 6-for-23, and that was despite Shannon Brown's 3-for-4 performance.
If it wasn't for Bynum's 8-for-11 shooting and 7 offensive rebound, the Lakers might have lost by 20.
You know what it was? The Mavericks were the aggressors. They had no fear. They attacked the Lakers on offense and defense. They never got rattled. Never backed down. They displayed a toughness nobody outside of Dallas believed they had.
The Lakers are done. I say this despite their championship pedigree, their coach's ability to guide teams through apparent calamity and a direct warning from a certain 6-foot-6 guard.
"Be careful what you write," Kobe Bryant said, knowing full well that I and the rest of the media pack walking through the Staples Center corridor were about to type the Lakers' death notice as soon as we returned to the Chick Hearn Press Room.
"Be careful what you write," Bryant repeated. He added an admonition for my ESPN.com colleague. "You too, Stein."
I told Bryant that the Lakers don't have the energy.
"True," he said.
And if you don't have energy, then the schemes or the intent or the pride don't matter.
"True," he said.
There's no way he was leaving it at that. I tried to draw more out of him.
"But," he replied with a smile. "But. Dot-dot-dot. "
Kobe's defiant. You expected that. But are any of the other Lakers feeling it?
Said Jackson: "It looked like Dallas had more energy out there on the floor than we did. That's a concern. ... We really got dispirited."
Now the Lakers have to be feeling the dreaded "D" word.
Said Kobe: "Desperate? That's a strong word. I think when you play desperate, you don't play your best basketball. What we need to do is relax, focus on what we're doing wrong and the mistakes that we're making, and we have plenty to review and lock in on that."
If you say so, Mamba.
Said Bynum: "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. I think we've addressed them before, but now is the time to really sit down and ask yourself the tough questions."
Good luck with that, Andy.
Stephanie G: "The ship be sinking."
Ron Artest: L.A.'s "defensive stopper" was dispatched on Dirk Nowitzki. And it didn't matter. Dirk still got whatever he wanted. What did you expect? That Artest could really guard a seven-footer? Really?
Still, that's not why Ron is getting a WotN. No, it's because your 2011 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award winner did this:
As Basketbawful reader Peter asked: "Tru Warrior or Ultimate Warrior?"
Now that's the Crazy Pills we've been waiting to see. Artest was ejected and will likely be suspended for Game 3. Although, the way he's been playing, that might actually be good news for the Lakers.
Shawn Marion: Rewatch that Artest video and notice how Marion reacts to his teammate getting clotheslined across the face.
Bonus video: Basetbawful reader Cetti writes: "I do not have words for that." And by "that," Cetti is talking about this:
The Atlanta Hawks: Spider-Man's balls! The Dirty Birds really laid an offensive egg last night. I could eat Vinny Del Negro's offensive playbook and crap out a better game plan than Atlanta had last night. You know it's bad when, during those Mic'd up segments, the coach is bitching out his team for taking stupid shots.
And he wasn't wrong.
The Bulls held the Hawks to 73 points on 33.8 percent shooting and forced them to miss 10 of their 13 three-point attempts. Atlanta finished with a miserable Effective Field Goal Percentage of 35.7 and an Offensive Efficiency of only 81.1. As in points per 100 possessions.
The Hawks missed 11 of their 23 field goal attempts at the rim and went a gag-reflex-testing 6-for-30 from 16-23 feet. They were as cold last night as they were hot in Game 1. Dr. Jekyll, meet Mr. Hyde.
Chicago's D did a number on Josh Smith (4-for-14), Al Horford (3-for-12 and zero free throw attempts), Jamal Crawford (2-for-10) and Marvin Williams (2-for-9). Moreover, the Bulls contained Joe Johnson, who finished with 16 points on 7-for-15 shooting and made only one trip to the foul line. And, outside of Crawford, the Atlanta bench managed only 2 points.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Atlanta had the lowest FGP of a Bulls playoff opponent since the Michael Jordan era...and the third-lowest since 1995-96.
Seriously, the Hawks couldn't have located the basket even if they'd had help from the CIA agents who tracked down Osama Bin Laden.
The Bulls also outrebounded the Hawks 58-39 and had an 18-10 advantage in second-chance points.
The only reason the Bulls didn't win this one by 30 is because their offense was almost as dreadful as Atlanta's. Derrick Rose had a case of the MVP yips: 10-for-27 from the field, 1-for-8 from downtown and 8 turnovers. Carlos Boozer kept shooting directly into the hands of Smith. Kyle Korver (1-for-9) led a Chicago bench attack that produced a combined 5-for-20 brick-a-palooza.
Noah was the hero of the night, scoring 19 points (6-for-8 from the field and 7-for-8 at the line) to go with 14 rebounds, including 7 big-time offensive boards. Jo also had three steals and countless hustle plays. There was no question he felt a sense of urgency. Still...Noah twice gave up three-point plays by swiping at an Atlanta player who was about to make an easy layup. The second time Noah did that -- fouling Smith with 4:56 remaining -- allowed the Hawks to pull to within six points (75-69).
That was the kind of night it was. It seemed that for every two positive players, somebody on the team made a negative one. Yes, the Bulls won by double-digits. No, it did not feel like a commanding victory even though it probably should have been.
The Bulls need to get their offensive act together. Pronto.
Carlos Boozer: Last night, Boozer went 3-for-8 at the rim, 0-for-1 from 3-9 feet, 0-for-1 from 10-15 feet and 1-for-2 from 16-23 feet. Four of his shots were blocked. Felt like twice that many.
Said Noah: "Sometimes our home crowd is a tough game to play. We've got a lot of love for our crowd, but through tough times, we got to stick together. I've been in that position before, my rookie year, where I've been booed. It's tough to be booed in your home crowd. With Carlos, people have to understand he's playing through an injury, and he's giving us what he's got. He's somebody who has an unbelievable presence, and he opens up a lot of things for a lot of us. I think sometimes people are quick to bash one player. But this is a team, and we know we need Carlos to get to where we want to go."
Added Ronnie Brewer: "If you know how turf toe is, if you have any injury [like that], anything he can go out and give us is a plus. I think he did a phenomenal job on both ends of the floor."
Further added Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau: "Carlos is giving us everything he has. The rebounding is huge. His offense will come around."
The Bulls better hope so.
Said Boozer: "Obviously I want to make the shots that I missed, or the ones that got blocked. But for the most part, I'm just going to keep playing."
That's all he can do, really.
I just hope he doesn't keep playing the way he has been.
Chris' Playoff Lacktion Report:
Jason Collins fouled once in 3:16 for a +1 and a 1:0 Madsen-level Voskuhl...
...while fellow dirty birds Josh Powell, Hilton Armstrong, and Pape Sy went 55 seconds as MARIO TRIPLETS! (Armstrong checked a board in and avoided true lacktivity).
In 15 fewer seconds, steakhouse master Omer Asik matched Collins's not-so-big-man numbers to a tee.