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Dallas Knocks Lakers Out Of NBA Playoffs


For years, the Los Angeles Lakers have been the most glamorous team in the NBA, and often the best - multiple championships, a superstar in Kobe Bryant and a legendary head coach in Phil Jackson. This morning, though, things look very different. The Lakers are out of the playoffs after being swept by the Dallas Mavericks in the second round, and Phil Jackson appears headed for retirement.

NPR's Tom Goldman is with us.

And, Tom, a few weeks ago, it would've been almost unthinkable that the Lakers would be out of the playoffs so early, losing four straight games. What went wrong?

TOM GOLDMAN: Oh, man. How much time do you have, Renee? Actually, before we talk about what went wrong with the Lakers, how about we talk a little bit about how great the Dallas Mavericks were?

Yesterday's 122-86 dismantling of the Lakers was absolutely breathtaking in its precision and its dominance. They were raining down three-point - long-range, three-point shots. They had 11 in the first half, 20 for the game. That ties NBA records. It was stunning.

And if there's a better team than Dallas left in the playoffs, Renee, I'm waiting to hear who they are. These are not your father's Dallas Mavericks.

In recent years, they got a bad reputation for putting up great records in the regular season and then losing quickly in the playoffs, maligned for being soft and not playing defense. They have been playing fantastic defense. They have great depth. They're a heck of a team playing great basketball right now.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's turn back to the Lakers, though. It's just been a disaster for them. Who is to blame?

GOLDMAN: You know, they're trying to figure that out. People will point the finger at Pau Gasol, the Lakers' big man who basically disappeared from this series. They'll point to the bench players who never provided support for the starters.

It seems bigger than a few individuals, though. You know, we had some hints. Center Andrew Bynum, during the series, said to reporters the team had trust issues. Another Laker, Lamar Odom, who, along with Bynum, got kicked out of yesterday's game for committing cheap, flagrant fouls. He was quoted as saying: "I don't know where we lost it, that drive, that bond we had in the past, that cohesive drive in order to overcome adversity." They just didn't have it.

MONTAGNE: Several of Phil Jackson's grown children traveled to Dallas to be there to support their dad in case L.A. lost, which suggests that this series -and especially this last game - could have an impact on his legacy.

GOLDMAN: You know, a lot of commentators were quick to say yesterday afterwards that what happened in no way taints Jackson's incredible record: 11 NBA titles in 20 seasons. You know, he took great individual players like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant and helped them mesh with teammates that led to multiple titles.

But this Dallas series and yesterday's embarrassment, that'll also be part of his record. And it showed that even a great coach like Jackson can lose his team. He couldn't motivate his team in yesterday's must-win situation. So that will be part of what Coach Jackson leaves.

MONTAGNE: OK. Just finally, then, Tom, still in the playoffs, another of the NBA's storied franchises, the Boston Celtics, trying to hang in there against the Miami Heat, which is star-studded, you might say. How's Boston doing?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Well, you know, they're bringing the toughness that the Lakers didn't yesterday. In game three of their series, the Celtics were down 2-0. They had a great performance at home in Boston. Their guard, Rajon Rondo, had a horrible injury. He dislocated his elbow. People thought he was done for the playoffs after watching it. But then after being helped to the locker room, he came back and helped them win and inspired his teammates.

You know, Renee, there are young barbarian teams at the gate in these playoffs - Memphis, Oklahoma City, Miami. They're itching to get to that place usually inhibited by the Lakers and the Celtics: the finals. The Lakers are gone. Boston is hanging in there, though, so far.

MONTAGNE: Tom, thanks very much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.