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Steinberg: NBA title dreams might not be reality

Steinberg Says

May 19, 2012|By Leigh Steinberg

It's an exciting time for Southern California sports. Staples Center just hosted four playoff games in three days, and has two more in store Sunday. The Kings are serious contenders to win the Stanley Cup. The Lakers and Clippers, though, have a much tougher challenge ahead of them.

Having grown up in sunny Southern California, what I knew about hockey could fill about half of a thimble. But I have rooted for the Lakers since the days of Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlin and Elgin Baylor, and I have always empathized with the traditionally inept Clippers. Both teams performed better than expected in the regular season, but the playoff outlook is not bright.

The Lakers have been a premier franchise since they arrived in Southern California. They came from Minnesota, which is why perpetually drought-stricken Southern California has a team nickname connoting a life on inland water. They have won multiple NBA championships thanks to great players such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. On paper, this year's Lakers still look like they should dominate, but the series with Oklahoma City has exposed their weakness. 

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Center Andrew Bynum played in the All-Star game this year and forward Pau Gasol has in the past. They are tall, strong and athletic, but not consistent. Bynum takes games and plays off. He should be unstoppable offensively and defensively, but his attitude is not conducive to team play. He draws multiple technical fouls and is difficult to coach. When he decides to play well, the Lakers are successful, but he can simply disappear in games. That's a difficult thing to do at his height.

Gasol has a better attitude but is equally streaky. He is getting older and it shows. Both players are perfect examples to younger athletes of why talent can be outplayed by desire and heart.

The Lakers, who trail the Thunder, 3-1, following Saturday night's 103-100 collapse, have not been able to find a point guard to run the offense since the heyday of Derek Fisher. Point guards can completely alter a team, as Derrick Rose does in Chicago and Chris Paul has done for the Clippers. Ramon Sessions simply can't keep up with the younger OKC players.

And then there's Kobe.

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