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Bet on the NBAFor the Los Angeles Lakers, it must have seemed all too familiar yet all too new.

Head coach Phil Jackson had won eleven championship rings coming into the 2010-2011 series, and had led Los Angeles to the NBA Finals in each of the past three years, winning the last two. And if we all know Jackson, his finals victories have always come in three-peats. So 2011 had to be another LA victory, right? Right?

Through most of the regular season, observers remarked how lethargic the Lakers looked compared to teams like the Spurs, Celtics, or Heat. When asked about their apathetic play, the usual answer from the Lakers was another question: “Are we in the playoffs yet?” And after the All-Star break, the Lakers went on a tear through the NBA, going 17-1 at one point. It looked like a return trip to the Finals was inevitable, every series just a stepping stone to final three-peat before Jackson retired.

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But history does now bow to the expectations of mere mortal basketball players, even as great of players as the Lakers have fielded this year. After three straight years of making it to the Finals, the Lakers looked tired, in need of a longer vacation than usual. And so they went through the motions in the first round against the New Orleans Hornets, losing a couple surprising games, but eventually coming out on top in Game Six.

Going all the way to the Finals again, though? It all seems like so much unnecessary work for the Lakers, who won two of the last three championships. After you win so many, battle through April, May, and June every year, why not take a break? If winning a three-peat is easy, then sure, take it. But if it starts to get hard, why bother? For the Lakers, there seemed to be no fierce urgency to win another one if it would take any more effort than their lethargic regular season play.

The Dallas Mavericks, on the other hand, have been out to exorcise the demons of playoffs past, and it was the Lakers' unfortunate luck to run right into the Dallas freight train. Every loss looked worse for the Lakers in this second-round series, culminating in an embarrassing 122-86 loss. Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum were both ejected for dirty fouls that would have made them look like street thugs at an inner city playground, and was unbecoming for supposed professionals in an NBA playoff game.

So the Lakers get their much-needed and much-wanted early vacation. Phil Jackson ends one of the most successful coaching careers in history with an embarrassing loss, but one which takes nothing away from his spectacular record. The Mavericks move on, become the instant favorite in the West, and have a chance to win a NBA Championship. And every other team in the league must now fear Dallas' sweep of LA built on 60.3% shooting from the field and 62.5% shooting from three-point range.

 

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