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Phil Jackson is Feeling the Stress

06022010_Phil Jackson (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images North America)

I might even go out on a limb and say Phil Jackson’s rattled right now. Earlier this week, Jackson did his ceremonial passive-aggressive trash talk to one of the opposing teams better players. As reported by the Boston Globe, Jackson said Boston has “a smackdown mentality’’ and that Garnett “was smacking Howard’s arm and finally he was called for an offensive foul. That’s not our team. We don’t go out there and smack people around.’’

Honestly, at this point his antics are old, predictable and worn out. During this playoff run, Jackson has lambasted Steve Nash for carrying the ball on his dribble, Kevin Durant for getting away with traveling and pretty much any other player he sees as a threat. For a ‘Zen Master,’ Jackson sure does a lot of squabbling. I thought the whole point of Zen was to look inward?

Back in the 2008 finals the Lakers got worked by a bigger, tougher and all around better Celtics team. Emphasis on team. The knock on the Lakers (and always has been) is that they’re soft. They’re all Showtime. When the bodies start to bang, elbows start to fly (which they inevitably will in playoff games), and the Lakers fold. However this year, we’re told the story is a little different. After the beat down Boston gave to L.A. in 2008, they toughened up.

Are The Lakers Really Tougher Than They Were?

Now this is just me talking here, to be fair I have a solid 25 years of playing sports recreationally to fall back on, but if I hear my coach say, “We don’t go out there and smack people around,” I would think to myself “OK, coach doesn’t want us to be physical.” Good job Phil. This on the heels of calling his big men “thin-chested” last series as a way of motivating them to play harder. Sounds to me like Jackson is just sending mixed messages to his team.

Further proof: ESPNLosAngeles.com is reporting that the Lakers are offering a financial incentive to all players who take a charge.  I’ll give you a second to reread that sentence. Yes, if you take a charge for L.A., you get an extra $50. I was always taught that playing sound defense included taking a charge. Obviously Phil knows something I don’t…after all I’m constantly reminded of his 10 championships. I do know that that type of attitude will get you thrown out of any YMCA pick-up game.  It’s just a thought, but maybe throw in an extra $10 for hitting threes. Why not?

Consummate tough guy Sasha Vujacic had this to say about the $50 incentive: “To motivate us in a way to take charges and getting away with it.” Well there you go. I always thought playing professionally for the highest honor in the game was motivation. Maybe that’s why I never made it far in sports.

Despite the effort, however, there’s one Laker who is already bowing out from the competition. Ron Artest had this to say: “I don’t even know how to take a charge,” he said. “To get the charge you have to fall. I’d rather not fall. You call an offensive foul, possibly be a fight. That’s just how we grew up playing basketball.”

Good to know that Artest’s game hasn’t evolved from playing as a kid in New York. Some of the other highlights of the article include L.A. assistant coach, Frank Hamblin, basically saying that Lamar Odom doesn’t understand illegal defense. I feel like this Lakers team is a prime target for a Jerry Springer episode.

Contrasting the Celtics

Celtics coach Doc Rivers handled Jackson’s ridiculous comments with nothing but class. When asked about Jackson’s comments about the Celtics being a ‘smackdown team,’ Rivers responded, “We just thank Phil for the compliment, that’s very nice of him to say.’’ Rivers went on to say, “Whatever got us here, we’re not hiding from who we are, and we’re going to be that. So that’s never going to change. We said it from Day 1. We are who we are. If you like us, cheer for us. If you don’t, complain. But we’re not going to change.’’

Sounds like Doc is more concerned with getting his team ready to play versus calling out players on the opposing squad. I’m just calling it like I see it.

More Room For Concern

Jackson should be concerned about his team. If the Lakers are to have any success against the Celtics big men, 7-foot-tall, 289-pound center Andrew Bynum is going to be a big part of that. However, earlier this week Bynum had 2 ½ fluid ounces drained from his right knee. Kobe Bryant had a similar procedure done during the Thunder series and rebounded nicely, so there was a lot of optimism that Bynum would bounce back. However, when asked about the repercussions of the procedure on Tuesday, Bynum said, “It feels about the same, to be honest.” Not a sterling response if you’re Phil Jackson.

Can Another Loss to the Celtics Taint a Legacy?

Finally, as I mentioned above, Jackson does have 10 championships (and an almost nauseating smugness). You can’t take either away from him. But what he doesn’t have is a Finals victory over the Celtics. The Celtics/Lakers rivalry is bigger than Jackson and all his accomplishments and I think it really sticks in his craw that he’s got the short end of the stick when it comes to Boston. So do you think he’s extra motivated for this series? I guess…as motivated as a Zen Master can get. But with the added pressure, we may see chinks in Phil Jackson’s armor to add fuel to the fire in the debate on how good would Phil Jackson have been without Jordan and Kobe.

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