Lakers ignored signs of danger

LOS ANGELES -- Andrew Bynum sounded more like a reflective significant other nearing the end of a relationship than a disgruntled basketball player talking about defensive rotations.

"It's obvious we have trust issues," Bynum said. "Unless we come out and discuss it, then nothing is going to really change."

Bynum often cites specifics and examples when he answers questions. He avoids the broad generalities and clich├ęs that plague his counterparts around the league. Perhaps it comes from devouring a New York Times best-seller every other week, but the youngest starter on the Los Angeles Lakers has a more well-rounded view of his team's current predicament than his guarded counterparts.

"If we go to the root of what's really hurting us and not candy-coat things and not talk around issues, then we'll be fine. If not, then we won't," Bynum said after the Los Angeles Lakers fell behind 2-0 in their second-round playoff series with the Dallas Mavericks. "I think we've addressed them before but now is the time to really sit down and ask yourself the tough questions."

The toughest question when looking at the Lakers during their roller coaster season is figuring out how great they really are.

After all, if the expectation for this team was to win a third straight title, the belief must have been that this squad was one of the top five in league history, considering what it was asked to do.

Only three teams have advanced to four straight NBA Finals, with the Boston Celtics from 1984 through 1987 being the last to do it, and they were able to win only two titles during that stretch.

Only five teams have ever won three straight NBA championships, with the Lakers from 2000 through 2002 being the last to do it. The others are the Chicago Bulls (1991-93 and 1996-98), Boston Celtics (1959-66) and Minneapolis Lakers (1952-54).

Have the Lakers done anything this postseason or during the regular season (outside of their brief winning streak after the All-Star break) to elicit comparisons to those all-time great teams?

If those teams got together for a Heisman Trophy-like celebration, this season's Lakers would have been the Gino Torretta and Eric Crouch of the party, with everyone asking how they snuck into the room.

This isn't to say the Lakers haven't been a great team the past three seasons. But the writing has been on the wall for quite some time that this team wasn't as great a collection as the previous two years. Just look at these Lakers' five-game losing streak at the end of the regular season. It wasn't just a bad stretch of basketball; it was a historically bad omen for their championship chances.

The Lakers have never won a championship in a season in which they've lost four in a row, and they lost at least four consecutive games twice this season. Also, the Lakers have lost four games in a row after the All-Star break only nine times since 1975, and the furthest those teams got in the playoffs was, you guessed it, the second round.

Even during the postseason, the Lakers have continually put themselves in a precarious position. They lost the first game of their first-round series against the New Orleans Hornets and lost the first game of their second-round series against the Mavericks. The winner of the first game of a playoff series goes on to win the series 78 percent of the time. It was only a matter of time before the Lakers couldn't overcome those odds.

After dropping a second home game to the Mavericks and falling into a 2-0 hole in the series, the Lakers' odds of overcoming their current predicament are even slimmer. Only three teams in NBA history have come back to win a best-of-seven series after losing the first two games at home.

"I'm not shocked; I'm surprised," Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. "We kept playing with fire the past three years, dropping games on our home floor, and we finally got what we deserved. We dropped two."

The Lakers' immediate concern, as Bynum mentioned after Game 2, is the team's communication on defense, which has been worse than a married couple sleeping in separate rooms. Bynum doesn't trust that his teammates will help him, so he has simply decided not to help his teammates on defense. During the Lakers' wining streak after the All-Star break, it was Bynum's defensive help and trust among his teammates that propelled the Lakers to win 17 of 18 games.

Those days seem like a distant memory now as Bynum takes a look around the locker room. He doesn't need to look at any odds to realize the dire position the team is in, although he, like Bryant, isn't shocked to see the mess the Lakers are currently in.

"Realistically speaking, they've been there the whole season," Bynum said of the team's problems. "We're quite a talented team so we kind of get by when a guy can take over a game. We have four or five guys who are able score 10 straight points so it makes it a little bit less obvious. But at this point, it's obvious because this team is cutting us apart and we're not doing anything about it."

Arash Markazi is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.