The Purpose-Missing Life

By J.A Adande

Is it possible the Lakers have won too many games for their own good?

They’re the only Western Conference playoff team that doesn’t have to worry about its seeding. They’re comfortably ensconced in the No. 1 spot, a place that officially becomes theirs if they beat the Nuggets tonight in Denver.

Yet their 4½ game cushion in the standings puts them at a competitive disadvantage when they face a team that’s still scrambling, such as the Nuggets … or the Spurs last weekend … or the Trail Blazers this upcoming Sunday.

“It’s tough to get to that level of intensity,” said Kobe Bryant, holding his hand up to his head. “What you have to do is take care of the ball, execute and play the mental game. Hopefully the level that we’re playing at mentally equals the level that they’re playing at emotionally.”

Derek Fisher threw out the idea that focusing on the big picture leaves the Lakers unable to focus on the little snapshots.

“All season it’s been about repeating as champions,” Fisher said. “As the season has shortened it doesn’t seem like we’ve kept an ability to find a purpose for today, to play a certain way.

“At times the natural adrenaline that comes from playing in big games, the passion and certain things that just sort of come naturally, hasn’t been there for us.”

For all of their issues, there are seven teams right below them that would gladly trade places. But the Lakers aren’t the type to hang divisional or conference championship banners.

“We didn’t accomplish jack,” Bryant said. “I don’t care about that at all. We were expected to win the West, I expected us to win the West. I expected us to have the best record in the league, and we haven’t. [Cleveland does.] From that standpoint it’s been disappointing so far.”

Teams candidly admit they are jockeying for position to avoid playing the Lakers. So which team concerns the Lakers?

“I’m concerned with everybody right now, the way we’re playing,” Bryant said. Then, unprompted, he began praising the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“I love what Oklahoma’s doing,” Bryant said. “It’s a young team. Everybody, including myself, is kind of sitting around saying, ‘Eventually they’re going to fall off. Eventually.’ And then they don’t. They just keep going.”

If the playoffs started today the Lakers and Thunder would play in the first round. And maybe by then the Lakers might even find a purpose to play for.