In a week filled with tributes to the late Ronald Reagan, the Los Angeles Lakers seem to have adopted the persona of the former United States president. You almost can hear Lakers coach Phil Jackson begin every sentence with, "Well, there you go again," borrowing Reagan's old device to disarm doubters.
Reagan always presented a calm, confident exterior, whether it was justified or not. The Lakers are trying to do the same, but they need to stop talking about turning things around and start taking some actual basketball-related steps toward accomplishing it.
Despite being down 2-1 to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA final, the Lakers' mantra continues to be: "All is well, everybody relax, we're not getting beat, we're just beating ourselves."
It's almost as if any genuine admission that they're befuddled by an equal, if not superior, opponent would amount to a sign of weakness. Whereas Reagan had no discernible ego, the Lakers hardly are lacking in that department.
"(The Pistons) are not doing anything that's putting us out of character," Lakers centre Shaquille O'Neal said yesterday. "We're putting ourselves out of character."
It's not that the Lakers don't think the Pistons are any good. It's just that the Lakers have such a firm belief in themselves, they feel they can overcome anything.
And hey, maybe they can. As Detroit's Tayshaun Prince said, "Any kind of lead on the Lakers is not really a lead."
But one thing's for sure: The Lakers will have to look a lot less like a crumbling dynasty tomorrow in Game 4 at the Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich., than they did in the first three games of this series.
The Lakers insist they aren't angry. When Kobe Bryant was asked if his club is "mad as hell and isn't going to take it anymore," he laughed.
Responding to the same query, Jackson said, "I don't think mad, or anger, is the right way to go."
However, Jackson admitted he's getting frustrated by the officiating. Depending upon your point of view, bringing the refs into the mix is either a coy ploy for better treatment in the future or the last refuge of the damned.
"In our determination, we have to make a stand, and in that process I'm going to have to make a stand with the officials," Jackson said.
"We have to be able to play defence the way (the Pistons) do -- in the bodies, up against arms, contesting shots and not getting caught for the foul. If we attempt to play defence like (Detroit), the disparity in foul calls is ridiculous."
Of course, even on their best day the Lakers don't have the capacity to play defence like the Pistons. Detroit forward Rasheed Wallace went so far as to describe his team as "a bunch of dog-faced gremlins getting down on all fours, ready to scrap," whatever the heck that means.
Despite Karl Malone's virtually useless right knee, the Lakers have many other strengths. They just haven't been in great evidence thus far.
Jackson, who as a coach has won three of his nine titles with the Lakers, spoke philosophically about the knack for coaching superstars.
"What every superstar gets (from fans and media) is a perception of invincibility," Jackson said. "When you're a coach, you have to allow them to understand that yes, that perception is part of their persona. But a player still has to do the things that are correct in basketball to win at this level."
In other words, this series is about basketball, not past glories or reputation.
"We're okay," Shaq said. "We have to act like we want it."
Acting, huh? Reagan was an actor, too, albeit one of dubious quality. Are the Lakers better actors than Reagan was? "Well, there you go again ... "