HELP WANTED: As the Lakers struggle to remain atop the West, it will be up to players like Lamar Odom, above, and Ron Artest to pick up the slack in the final games of the regular season.
Stumbling to the Finish
Lakers fans in panic mode after recent road trip, Easter loss to Spurs
By Jason LewisSentinel Contributing WriterThe shaking that was felt on Easter Sunday may have been from the many fans jumping off the "Lakers are going to win the championship" bandwagon. Or it may have been all the Laker haters jumping for joy, just knowing that this Lakers team looks nothing like a championship contender and that their teams actually has a chance. After a horrible 2-3 road trip, where the Lakers lost two of their games by double digits, and then a 19 point loss to the San Antonio Spurs at home, why would anybody think that this team is about to make a run to the NBA Finals? The way it's looking they may not even get out of the first round of the playoffs.The Lakers might get the Spurs, who just ran them out of their own building. They might get the Oklahoma City Thunder, who beat them by 14 points on the recent road trip. Or they might get the Trailblazers, who always beat the Lakers in Portland. At this point it's not looking good for the Lakers.The Lakers fans that have stayed on the bandwagon are all singing the same tune. It's just the regular season. History could prove that song right.The Lakers 3-peat teams with Shaq and Kobe are a good example of the regular season not mattering. They had a lot to prove in the 1999-00 season, when the Lakers had not won a title since the '88 season. The Lakers won 67 games on the way to the NBA title.The following season the Lakers stumbled their way through the regular season, winning only 56 games and handing the Spurs home court advantage in the Western Conference. The Lakers took a lot of heat for not having a sense of urgency that year. Well come playoff time they flipped the switch and ran through Western Conference by sweeping every series. The only game they lost in the playoffs that year was an overtime loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, who they went on to beat for the NBA title.The following season the Lakers blew off the regular season again because they had nothing to prove. They gave the Sacramento Kings home court advantage and then went on to beat the Kings at Sacramento on their way to another NBA title. Take a look at the Chicago Bulls with Jordan. Jordan was on a mission after his first retirement. He willed the Bulls to 72 victories during the 1995-96 season. Two years later with nothing to prove the Bulls won 62 games on their way to their second 3-peat. Teams with something to prove run through the regular season. The '02 Kings wanted to prove that they were better than the Lakers, so they won as many games as possible during the regular season while the Lakers coasted their way into the playoffs.The Cleveland Cavs are lighting the league on fire this season, just like they did last season. What did that get them last year? A whole lot of nothing. The Orlando Magic made short work of them. The Cavs have showed up this year again with something to prove so they are on a nightly mission to win every game. The Lakers simply do not need to wear themselves out chasing a mythical regular season title. Let the Cavs be the back-to-back regular season champs if they want it so bad because it does not matter much in the playoffs. Come playoff time the Lakers will flip the switch like true champions do...well, that's what Lakers fans on the bandwagon are saying. They're praying right about now that will be the case, because the Lakers are looking horrible.