City in ruins: L.A. reels from Lakers' capitulation in humiliating sweep

Basketball fans in Los Angeles cannot escape the depressing news: The NBA champion Lakers lost four straight to the Dallas Mavericks, and looked pretty bad doing it.

Richard W. Rodriguez/AP
Dallas Mavericks' Jason Terry shoots against the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half of Game 4 of a second-round NBA playoff basketball series, on Sunday, May 8, in Dallas. The Mavericks won 122-86, and swept the series.

This is a town filled with diehard basketball fans trying to escape the bad news, and failing.

“It’s everywhere, where am I supposed to go?” says Ty Duvay, whacking copies of L.A.’s two major newspapers down on a coffee shop table here, each with photo spreads on both Page 1 and the front of the Sports section.

“Lakers lose their cool and series,” says a caption on Page 1 of the Los Angeles Times. In the photo, Lakers center Andrew Bynum is being ejected from Sunday’s 122-86, Game 4 loss to the Dallas Mavericks after a flagrant fourth-quarter foul on Dallas guard J.J. Barea.

“I’m crushed, depressed, disappointed, in mourning,” says Mr. Duvay, quaffing a foam-covered latte with the despair of Humphrey Bogart at his bar in “Casablanca.” Outside at the curb, Duvay’s hearse-black SUV sports four, limp, purple-and-yellow “Go Lakers!” flags.

“Relax … DUDE … we got Osama bin Laden, the economy’s coming back … get a grip!” says his friend, Todd Davis.

Pick your analysis

So what went wrong? A popular culprit is desire: The Dallas Mavericks were hungrier and more in need of a playoff vindication. The Lakers after all, were two-time defending champions while the Mavericks have only one finals appearance to show for a decade among the league's elite.

Also possible is that success has at last worn down the Lakers. Sunday was the 77th post season game since 2008 – nearly an entire, extra, 82-game regular season.

The most unthinkable? Maybe the Lakers were outplayed by a better team.

“In any sport, so much of the postseason is about matchups. In this case, the Lakers ran into a difficult matchup,” says Eric Musselman, former head coach of the Golden State Warriors, in an e-mail. He says that defending opposition point guards was a concern for the Lakers throughout the regular season.

“Dallas guard J.J. Barea had a significant impact on the series. He was a momentum-changer,” Mr. Musselman says.

The Dallas defense also stifled the Lakers' strengths, mixing up zone defenses with man-to-man. "Their zone defenses took away the inside advantage that that the Lakers had,” he says. “The zone forced the Lakers to shoot the three-ball. And they had trouble converting on those shots.”

He and others also say that the Lakers were stunned by losing the first two games on their home floor. “It’s human nature. Guys lose confidence,” says Musselman. “The hill starts to look like a mountain.”

Los Angelenos sing the blues

Whatever the analysis, it is hitting Los Angelenos hard. “One of the amazing things about sports in this society is that it helps deflect attention in life to something that is positive,” says Dan Lebowitz, executive director of the Center for Sport in Society at Northeastern University. But “that identification can also be a negative."

Adds Tyler Barnett, owner of a Los Angeles PR firm: “When Lakers flags are on all the cars on [Interstate] 405, people are much friendlier to each other,” he says. “As a direct result of the Laker’s let-down, I’ve noticed people driving more aggressively and less cautious. In a city known for its traffic, the last thing we need is more road rage.”

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