Friday, January 20, 2012

Lakers Can’t Find True Identity From LBJ-Kobe Duel

The audience erupted in roars, primal screams that rattled the arena in South Beach and, when all the folks were seen in seas of black cheering on LeBron James, it was obvious he suddenly was the rising star on this night. It’s a glaring notion that we are witnesses of two megastars that occupy our own consciousness as we are brainwashed by those Nike advertisements.

If he wants to settle an overexposed debate, in the meantime, Kobe Bryant must outscore James in a star-studded duel, but he’s not focused on outshining his nemesis and too busy promoting the Kobesystem, another illuminati commercial to endorse his product. Unfortunately, nothing ever comes easy for Bryant, who finds himself in a debate even though he owns five rings – more than the average player in this generation. He’s not, however, the most likable player as some disbelievers prefer to applaud James when he give up his claim to all-time greatness, crowning him prematurely as if he wears a ring.

So now what? It was a hideous shooting night for Bryant, and then the Kobe Lakeshow wasn’t on its regularly scheduled program or never aired in Miami, where James grabbed all the attention and showboated as usual, settling for 31 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, four steals and three blocks to dominate the Lakers single-handedly. Maybe he doesn’t show it by his facial expressions – but he still, in his heart, hates losing to James.

The Lakers and Heat meeting in the NBA Finals?

It’s a possibility, a large possibility.

As much as the Lakers often lose to the Heat, Bryant normally becomes frustrated or petulant following a disappointing letdown on the national stage that centers two megastars, maybe even the greatest NBA entertainers in such a captivating show business – and cannot ever beat James to mute an endless Kobe vs. LeBron discussion. This 98-87 anticlimax on Thursday was a sign that the Lakers are still a work in progress, not equipped to strive for another title, seeking for an identity with new head coach Mike Brown and younger role players.

The evolution of this team couldn’t have been more than dire straits when the Lakers had no ferocity, no mental toughness, no heart or fight to slow down James. The night revolved around James, and there he was, flying past everyone in gold uniforms, while fighting flu-like symptoms. It means we’re seeing a sudden rise in James’ performance, putting on a show for fans in Miami and outplaying his childhood idol in every meeting to cap an NBA masterpiece almost like no other. It also means, on the flip side of things, that the Lakers are NOT competent or moxie to battle for the gleaming hardware, with many flaws to still fix within a fluctuant offense.

This promises to be an excruciating marathon of the Lakers’ erratic season, when the front office can relieve a tremendous amount of pressure off Bryant by trading Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace in exchange for Dwight Howard as the team can use another star player hungry enough and willing to team up with the Black Mamba and meet the challenge for the run at a title. It took an embarrassing loss to the Heat for the Lakers to determine certainly that their offense is inconsistent, weakened and soft.

It’s one thing to assume the Lakers are vehement, potent and built with the most talent in the NBA, which we began to discover weak spots as now would be a good time for resurrecting the frailty within a languid offense. But it’s another to witness them relapse already in such a young season because of injuries or either softness, to see a noteworthy pro basketball team in shambles that has become the hottest storyline.

The ending to this horror night in South Beach, where life for the Lakers turned pitch black as the weather forecast near the shores of Biscayne Bay called for strong winds from a wicked tropical storm, was frightful and painful as Kobe and his ineffective troops descended. That dreaded storm was James and the Heat. It’s usually a tough pill to swallow for Bryant, even more so when he loses to James over and over, unable to survive in a one-on-one duel as both players clash at center court, only to present an entertaining display on the NBA floor.

It hasn’t taken much to understand that Kobe and LeBron are the social fabric of basketball, an integral part of the economic and popularity in a growing enterprise, given that the NBA market is selling jerseys and tickets at most venues. It’s now easy to take in that James, in retrospect, doesn’t want to just fit in as an NBA star but also has the ambition to be a world-class athlete globally and market himself as an entrepreneur. Everyone knows when James and Bryant squares off — two of the NBA’s greatest — James always has the edge as his nemesis rashly backs down from the challenge, and so he continuously beats Bryant.

The Heat, for example, intimidated and terrified the Lakers to give us a clue on what they’ll be like the next few months, plainly not built for a championship run, suffering to make baskets and tighten up on defense, a number of troubles that has defaced L.A. for a long time. It’s almost foreshadowing to think that the Lakers are in a heap of trouble with this current roster, and refuse to entertain trade offers for Howard or another star player.

This was the moment for the Lakers to walk away with a victory against a championship-built team that was missing top guard Dwyane Wade because of an ankle injury. This was the moment for the Lakers to win without a healthy Miami Thrice unit on the floor that would have definitely presented more problems. It’s never good to see Chris Bosh, the tall, lanky inconsistent forward, cobbler the softest giant Andrew Bynum, who was blocked by James late in the game.

It’s never good to see James stealing a pass from Fisher, and running off in transition for a slam dunk that capped a 31-point performance. At the end of the game, Gasol rendered his emotions, covering his eyes and leaving the floor speechless. It’s apparent that a disconcerted Derek Fisher, sitting with two bags of ice on each knee while soaking his feet in a bucket after the game, is aging and closing in on his retirement to call it an accomplished career.

It’s apparent that Bryant is alone in acting as the aggressor and facilitator that provides not even enough energy or firmness to dominate at a high. The temptation to increasingly step up the intensity hasn’t been seen from the Lakers, a disengaged team with apathy and lethargy, struggling to find ways to win on the road where they are 1-5. If they have every desire to play for a championship, the Lakers must win in other territories and defeat decisive contenders, without losing to teams such as Chicago, Miami or the L.A. Clippers.

And so, as of now, the struggles continue.