MEMO TO THE LAKERS:
It isn't the officiating. It isn't Utah's "dirty" play. It isn't Karl's Kicks or John's moving screens or the Jazz's holding and grabbing. And while we're at it, it isn't the air, the hotel accommodations or the breakfast you ate.You have been so busy looking for someone to blame for your 2-0 deficit in the Western Conference Finals that you've forgotten to look at the most obvious source of your problems: you.
Has anybody failed to notice? The Lakers have been playing the blame game. They were blaming the Jazz as early as a week ago - and that was before the series began. They were just getting a head start on the blame game, we suppose. After losing Game 1, Shaq grumbled about the rough play and vowed to retaliate with flared elbows. After losing Game 2, the Lakers blamed the officials.
"I think it was some outside sources," Robert Horry coyly told the L.A. Times, trying to explain his team's fourth-quarter funk. " . . . You keep doing things you know are going to work for you and people keep taking it away from you. . . . It's like it keeps happening, and you can't take it anymore."
Gee, you climb into referees' faces every time you visit the Delta Center, you point fingers at the guys in stripes and complain to the media about them, you beg for two flagrant fouls and two technicals and make several superb open-field tackles in the first game of the series - why would you have a problem with referees?
What are the referees supposed to do if the Lakers act like rats in a ship fire every time they find themselves in a tight spot against the Jazz? Call time out and give them a few pointers?
What are they supposed to do if Nick Van Exel and Kobe Bryant make only 12 of 45 shots, or if the Lakers miss 30 of 80 free throws in two games? Give them a mulligan?
What are they supposed to do if the Lakers shoot like brick masons and commit 18 turnovers in a game and miss layups in crunchtime and throw passes into photo row?
"I liked it better when we were complaining about Stockton and Malone being physical," said Rick Fox, "because that's who we're playing against."
And thanks for reminding them.
Fox is the only one who has figured it out. If the Lakers are going to beat the Jazz, they better start thinking about themselves and their opponent. They better find a way to score. They better find a way to stop that - whaddya call it? - pick and roll, which evidently is a new maneuver for the Lakers but actually is older than mud.
They better find a way to stop Karl Malone, John Stockton and Bryon Russell. No, on second thought, they should start by trying to stop Greg Foster, Antoine Carr, Shandon Anderson, Howard Eisley and Chris Morris. They better find a way to get shots against - and this must hurt - Greg Ostertag. Did we miss anyone? They better find a way to stop five guys over the age of 30.
They better figure out a way to become the first team to overcome an 0-2 deficit in the Western Conference finals since the NBA went to a conference format in 1970.
They better wise up. Remember what Charles Barkley said about these guys last fall? "If the Lakers had their mental stuff together, nobody could touch 'em. Thankfully, you've got to have brains."
Otherwise, the Lakers would rule the league.
How smart can the Lakers be? In last year's playoffs they came unglued against the Jazz. Van Exel and Shaq attacked Delta Center furniture and stormed after the officials following Game 5. It became comic when, in the midst of a postgame pout, they gave the silent treatment to reporters and referred all questions to their team captain. The problem was, when asked who their captain was, no one knew.
So what do the "more mature" Lakers do this time around? Van Exel melted down again on Monday night and Shaq got in the referee's face after the game was finished. Just like last year. The lessons of last year were lost.
"You know what I was saying; it wasn't pleasant," said Shaq.
Nor was it smart.
What could Shaq have possibly said to the ref? "Why did you let us panic in the first two games and allow us to play playground ball when things got tough?"
The Lakers talk too much. Apparently, they think this is a debate tournament and they're trying to score points with their mouths.
"Everybody did enough talking about this series," said Malone. "I don't have a helluva lot to say."
He just wants to play basketball. The Lakers should try it sometime.
"Hopefully, when we go home now we'll get the breaks," said Shaq.
Then again, they could just keep talking. . . .