For one, it’s easier to round up celebrities, because they’re already in town and you don’t have to truck them in. There’s always an anthem singer available, and about a hundred thousand backups if he or she gets sick.
Players like to come to L.A. because most of their agents are there and they can have their agents tell them what they want to hear in person rather than over the phone. And there are probably more nightclubs, limos, sushi joints and big and tall men’s shops in Los Angeles than anywhere else in the Western world.
In short, the NBA All-Star Game that transpired Sunday — won by the West, 148-143 — was a showcase event and nonstop party that could linger in the collective psyche of the basketball public for years to come.
And that’s a good thing for the Los Angeles Lakers come spring, because with everyone still euphoric about the midseason classic, perhaps it will soften the blow if the two-time defending champions suck an egg in the playoffs. Which could happen.
Yes, it might go something like this:
News item: “The Lakers are denied in their quest for a fourth straight visit to the NBA Finals.”
The Lakers wouldn’t like it if the All-Star extravaganza represented the highlight of their season. But if they continue to play as if every regular-season contest were a meaningless exhibition game, it just might work out that way.
Kobe Bryant played magnificently Sunday, scoring 37 points, grabbing 14 rebounds and taking home MVP honors for a record-tying fourth time. And of all the Lakers, he’s the one who consistently burns to win at Fahrenheit 451. Unfortunately, the blaze hasn’t spread to the rest of his team night in and night out.
It isn’t fair to say they don’t care. Each one does. But they haven’t translated that wish in their heads into desire in their guts.
As a result, they have losses like the last two on the road before the break against Charlotte and Cleveland. For some reason, the Bobcats are nettlesome to them, so that defeat at least fit into the realm of human understanding. But the Cavaliers? When you’re the two-time defending champions and you lose to a team that had dropped 26 in a row this season, that’s when you bring in Stephen Hawking to try and make sense of it.
If you have watched the Lakers this season, they rarely seem to enjoy themselves. They remind me of the character in “Casino” who has his head put in a vise by Joe Pesci. In a way, it’s understandable. The regular season is long, there is no urgency until the playoffs, blah blah blah.
The difference with these Lakers and other teams in this situation is that they’re just as close to an early-round upset as they are to another title. After two championships in a row, they’re in peril of never snapping out of their prolonged complacency like they promise they will. They’re supposed to flip the proverbial switch, except this season they might just be using a dimmer.
Other teams are improved. The Spurs, Mavericks and Thunder are particularly dangerous in the West. And if the Lakers happen to make the Finals, the Celtics and Heat are clearly hungrier.
I probably shouldn’t compare this All-Star Game with a Lakers’ effort, because that wouldn’t be fair to the All-Star Game. For all the knocks on this midseason marketing jamboree, the fact is that there was more intensity on the court Sunday night — especially in a furious fourth quarter led by LeBron James — than there has been all year for the Lakers.
Is there any way that the fuel from this East-West clash can create some momentum for the Lakers? Not directly. Kobe won’t walk into the lockerroom before Tuesday night’s contest at Staples against the Atlanta Hawks and give a pep talk using some freshly gained inspiration. And even if he did, Lamar Odom would be too busy spraying his unisex cologne on teammates, Ron Artest would be too confused and Andrew Bynum would be too worried about Thursday’s trade deadline to pay it any mind.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Fans in Los Angeles are used to winning it all. The Lakers have the opportunity to tie the Celtics at NBA titles with 17 in June. They can send Phil Jackson out with the mind-boggling feat of having achieved four three-peats in his career. All they have to do is play the kind of basketball that causes fans all over the world to fix their gazes on the city of Los Angeles.
You know, like they did for this All-Star Game. If not, then midseason — and not postseason — will have to serve as the highlight of their year.
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