THESPORTSDOC- Cubs and Lakers: What makes the winning difference?
Watching Game 5 of the NBA finals on Sunday night, June 14, one thing stood out. For all intents and purposes, these were the same guys who lost to the Celtics last year. Gasol was there, Ariza was there. Odom, Bynum, and Fisher were there. Somehow, Coach Bryant– I mean, Coach Jackson– managed to turn a losing team into a winning one.
How did he do it, and why can't anyone else give it a try? Specifically, why can't the Chicago Cubs try recycling for a change?
The Lakers and the Cubs share one thing: a humiliating 2008 post-season. Both teams had done extremely well during the regular season– the Lakers with 57 wins in a very tight conference race, and the Cubs with 97 wins, the most regular season wins for the franchise since 1945.
After a so-so beginning, the Lakers really took off after midseason. In February, the team acquired Pau Gasol mid-season for a pretty hefty hand-out (they traded Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, the draft rights to Pau's younger brother Marc Gasol, two first-round draft picks in 2008 and 2010, a second-round draft pick in 2010, and cash for the seven-foot Spaniard). It was a smooth move, though. The Lakers went 22-5 after Gasol suited up.
The Cubs were already cooking with gas by the All-Star break. They were number one in the Central Division and tied with the L.A. Angels for the best record in baseball. The Cubs had eight players on the All-Star team, tying a National League record, and seeing as how 2008 was the 100th anniversary of the Cubs' last World Series win, things couldn't have looked better.
Well, in Game 1 of the 2008 NBA finals, the Celtics beat the Lakers, 98-88, taking the lead in the third quarter and keeping it. In Game 2, the Lakers lost again, this time 108-102, a much tighter margin. L.A. wrestled back Game 3, winning by six. Game 4 went to the Celtics by six. In Game 5, L.A, won by five points, a surprising win considering Boston's Paul Pierce scored 38 points while Kobe scored only 25.
It was Game 6 that was really humiliating. All the regular season wins, all the progress the Lakers made as a team since acquiring Gasol, and Kobe Bryant's willingness to play every position went down the drain when the Celtics won 131-92. That's a 39-point victory, the highest ever in an NBA Finals game.
But at least the Lakers won a couple, right? The same can't be said for the Chicago Cubs.
Would someone please explain how a team with a 97-64 record could lose a division series in three straight games to a team with an 84-78 record? For crying out loud, the Dodgers were just six games over .500.
Could it be All-Star outfielder Alfonso Soriano's.212 postseason average, going 2-for-28 in two Cubs' post-seasons? Or perhaps the blame lies with All-Star third baseman Aramis Ramirez's leaving 19 runners on base. Maybe it has something to do with each starting infielder committing an error in Game 2, leading to five unearned runs.
But it's not the post-season activity of the Lakers and Cubs that matters. It's the off-season activity. Lakers owners, managers, and coaches took a look at their players and saw a team on the upswing, while Cubs owners, managers, and coaches looked at their players and saw nothing but disappointment.
The Lakers just won their 15th NBA title in franchise history, and they did it with the same players who lost to the Celtics last year. Conversely, the Cubs, having traded away Mark DeRosa– who scored the Cubs' only post-season home run, tried and true catcher Henry Blanco and closer Kerry Wood (while keeping Soriano and Ramirez, by the way)– are tied for third in the Central and looking to send zero players to the All-Star game. This after acquiring dugout poison Milton Bradley for $30 million.
So what's the difference here? Does Lakers management work harder, or are they more optimistic– or just cheap? Are the Cubs simply more impatient, pessimistic, stupid– or rich? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. If there's one lesson the Lakers can teach the Cubs and anyone else who cares to learn, it's that all the money, trades, and excuses in the world are no substitute for hard work– not to mention confidence.
Will somebody please post that in a clubhouse somewhere?