Threat Level Midnight

Michael Scott: We have a crisis. Apparently a disgruntled employee at the paper mill decided that it would be funny to put an obscene watermark on our 24-pound cream letter stock. 500 boxes have gone out with the imaged of a beloved cartoon duck performing unspeakable acts upon a certain cartoon mouse that a lot of people like. We have a lot of angry customers out there. This puts us at Threat Level Midnight.

This seemed like déjà vu all over again. The Lakers stumble into the playoffs, the seedings miraculously fall their way, and they flip that notorious playoff “switch” en route to another championship. Come Friday of last week, every Laker fan knew the plot and ending to the third installment of this Hollywood trilogy.

After running out to a 17-1 record after the All-Star break, the Lakers put it into cruise control, much like in years past. And, much like in years past, they found themselves with nearly the best possible playoff scenarios they could’ve asked for. A downward trending New Orleans team struggling to regain their early season form in the first round instead of a young, hungry, and talented Memphis team. A home court advantage in the second round, most likely against the Mavericks, a team (and owner) the Lakers love to beat. The Oklahoma City Thunder even dropped to the fourth seed, meaning the Lakers won’t see them or the Spurs until the Western Conference Finals. Everything was in place…except somebody forgot to flip that little “switch” we’ve been hearing so much about.

Maybe it was the 12:30 PM start time, a traditional sore spot for the Lakers (9-10 in the last two seasons during that time slot). Or maybe it was because they aren’t at full strength quite yet (Steve Blake is out with chicken pox, Matt Barnes is just coming back from an injury, Devin Ebanks is injured, Bynum had missed the previous game due to a bone bruise, and they are forced to give minutes to Trey Johnson, someone who hasn’t been on the team since training camp). And there’s always the fact that the Hornets biggest strength is also the Lakers biggest weakness (Quick point guards who run the pick and roll to perfection).

Nope, it’s not any of those excuses. It’s that pesky little “switch”.

These aren’t your Robert Horry and Rick Fox Lakers though. They were a group of veterans who saved up what they had left in the tanks only to unleash everything they had when the playoffs started. These Lakers have the propensity to wait until the last possible moment, the moment when all of the media and Laker fans have gone into “Threat Level Midnight” mode, to flip the switch and put it into high gear. Maybe that’s the only real drama left for them as a team. They feel the need to force themselves into a self-created corner, create mass hysteria among fans and critics, and when there’s nowhere else to go, the effort is finally mustered and victory will be achieved.

That’s the plan at least.

They had everyone believing that the back-breaking moment was a nearly epic collapse against the Kings on the last game of the season, only to be saved by yet another Kobe miracle. We all assumed that with the playoffs finally starting, this much anticipated switch would be switched, and all would be right. Little did we know that the playoff seedings have actually created a situation where the Lakers can put off flipping the switch even longer.

Playing the perceived lesser opponent has the Lakers playing much like they did to finish out the regular season. They’ve been running a lazy semi-triangle offense that turns into Kobe screen and roll or Kobe isolations late in the game, allowing for some of their lowest scoring outputs. This poor offense combined with a porous, non-helping half court defense and an atrocious transition defense all gets sprinkled with a thinly veiled lack of effort. All of this and more surfaced itself on Sunday as the Lakers lost the opening game of the series. Pau Gasol’s now infamous performance, along with Lamar Odom’s sheer non-existence and the complete disregard of the triangle was nothing new for the Lakers. It’s only the timing, during the playoffs, that has everyone concerned.

They aren’t there yet though, it’s not “Threat Level Midnight” quite yet. The Lakers haven’t dug themselves a deep enough hole at the moment. It’s going to take 1 more loss (in New Orleans I believe) to get everyone into full crisis mode, for the players to finally flip the switch, and put forth the effort and determination we all desire. We’re not there yet, but we’re close.

- Mark Slattery Writer

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