Lakers in one 'fine' mess

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:33 PM ET

TORONTO - The NBA’s second season tips off on Saturday, a post-season chase for a championship that could very well be the last basketball games played for a very long time.

With labour clouds hovering over the playoffs, any opinion expressed, intended or otherwise, will be scrutinized by the league.

Whether it’s innocuous or callous, fines will be meted out.

That’s why Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, who will step down for good once L.A.’s post-season run is over, was hit with a $75,000 fine, and the franchise slapped with an additional $75,000 fine, all because of comments made a week earlier.

“Who knows what the NBA is going to look like after this year?” Jackson said. “I think there’s some people pretty convinced there’s not going to be a year next year.”

Head games have been part of Jackson’s coaching arsenal for years, his ability to plant a seed as important as drawing up a play.

Last spring, Jackson felt Kevin Durant got too much respect from the officials, that Steve Nash travelled, among other beefs.

When Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 for using an anti-gay remark, Jackson would opine: “They (NBA) just do it according to what a person makes.”

One, by extension, can argue that the Lakers are in one fine mess given how much they regressed at the tail-end of the regular season.

Regardless of Andrew Bynum’s problematic knee and L.A.’s aging team, the reigning two-time champs remain the team to beat, even though San Antonio emerged with the No. 1 seed in the West.

There’s no better closer than Bryant, no more formidable frontcourt than the Lakers and no team is as playoff tested.

Having closed out the regular season looking vulnerable, the Lakers now look to regain that championship form many are expecting.

It just remains to be seen if the Lakers will step up or be vanquished.

When asked on the eve of the playoffs to share his thoughts on the team, Bryant was atypically uncertain.

“I’m not sure,’’ he said. “I don’t know. This team is so weird. I don’t know what the hell everybody is going to look like tomorrow.”

The Lakers were scheduled to practise Friday in preparation for Sunday’s playoff opener at Staples Center against the New Orleans Hornets.

On paper, this has sweep written all over it, a much-needed opportunity for the Lakers to put aside their late-season struggles and begin to impose their will.

In the last four years, the Lakers have lost only four times to the Hornets, whose front line is completely overmatched against the Lakers, especially without injured power forward David West.

This past season, the Lakers swept their four-game series.

“I hope it doesn’t let us think that this is going to be anything easy,” Jackson said. “We’re going to have to really (prepare) with a kind of seriousness.

“They are a survival-type team and they are a very feisty group of guys.”

Feisty, but small, which does not lead to post-season success.

Saturday’s opening-day slate features Chicago playing host to Indiana, a series that figures to be short, Miami playing Philly, another quick and done, Orlando versus Atlanta in an intriguing matchup and Portland playing at Dallas in what shapes up as a curious pairing.

For the first time since 2004, the Knicks are back in the post-season and their opening-round meeting with Boston pits two historic teams.

“We’re new as a team, but I feel we have the right tools and leadership to win in the post-season,’’ Knicks forward/centre Amare Stoudemire said. “It’s just a matter of applying it.”

The Knicks ended the regular season on a seven-game win streak to secure the sixth seed and a date with the third-seeded Cs, a team that went 4-0 versus New York.

No opening-round matchup has as much marquee value than the Celtics and Knicks.

And no team will be under the microscope than the Miami Heat.

Since leading Miami to its 2006 title, Dwyane Wade has yet to advance past the first round.

For those not convinced that franchises can’t reverse their fortunes quickly, consider that Miami, without an injured Wade, won all of 15 games four years ago.

If the Heat goes all the way this spring, which is possible, it will exceed the total by one.

“You don’t ever know if you’re going to win a championship until you get there, but you know you have the pieces that can compete for one,” Wade said as the Heat prepared for Philly. “That’s where we’re at right now.”

frank.zicarelli@sunmedia.ca


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