NBA: Phil Jackson needs to regain his touch with Lakers
By Jeff Miller
The Orange County Register
PHOENIX — Before we figure out where Phil Jackson is working next, maybe he should get around to coaching the Lakers first.
You remember the Lakers, the team paying Jackson $12 million to make sure things like what just happened don't happen.
For the second consecutive game, Jackson's team failed to exploit Phoenix's zone, resorted to unwisely trying to bomb with the long-distance Suns and lost a playoff game by nine points.
Oh, yeah, and this time the Lakers couldn't even beat Phoenix's junior varsity.
Was this 115-106 loss really Jackson's fault? No, it was a full team effort.
The point here is everybody would be wise to start paying attention to what's happening now as opposed to worrying about what might happen five or six weeks from now.
In case the rest of the world hasn't noticed, this series — tied 2-2 — has become genuinely interesting at a time when the NBA could use some drama on the actual court.
"Obviously disappointed," Jackson said. "We thought we could come here and get a game. Unfortunately, you know, we weren't up to the task."
Jackson then talked about how the Lakers won just about everywhere Tuesday but at the free-throw line, introducing the possibility that he was about to rip the referees and cost himself another five-figure fine.
Asked if the free-throw disparity — 22 of 32 for the Suns, 7 of 13 for the Lakers — was the officials' lack of judgment or the Suns' raging aggression, Jackson said neither.
Then he provided the answer: It was the Suns' ability to flop.
"I mean, it seemed like every time we went near them they fell down at some level in that game, and they went to the line," said Jackson, who singled out Steve Nash and Jason Richardson by name.
Quotes like this are why we love Jackson and hope he coaches the Lakers until Kobe Bryant is a grandpa.
In one efficient yet wide-ranging sentence, Jackson managed to disparage two of the Suns' best players and question the referees' ability to separate fact from fiction.
It was too bad that he also didn't find a way to voice his support of Arizona's new immigration law again. Game 5 at Staples Center on Thursday could be severely political protest free.
There were some disturbing trends in this game. The Lakers fired up another 28 3-points tries, were badly outrebounded (51-36) by the smaller Suns and "were standing around watching" — Jackson's words — as Phoenix amassed 18 offensive rebounds.
Worst of all, though, was that the Lakers — and I mean their starters — were pounded in the deciding fourth quarter by the likes of Goran Dragic, Louis Amundson and Leandro Barbosa.
Robin Lopez, the co-star of Game 3 with 20 points, didn't even play in the fourth quarter this time. Nash mostly cheered. The Suns fans mostly jeered.
"We lost the game," Bryant said, "because our defense (stunk)."
And that lack of defensive execution wasn't Jackson's fault. Suddenly, he is the subject of the hottest free agent talk in the NBA, a 64-year-old with the lower body of the Tin Man drawing more interest than LeBron James.
The Bulls have reached out to Jackson "through back channels" to gauge his interest in returning to Chicago, according to ESPN's Chris Broussard.
The Nets have made "back-channel inquiries" about their chances of luring Jackson, according to ESPN's Marc Stein.
Now, I'm no authority on the NBA or Jackson or back channels, but I do know before Game 4 that Jackson largely dismissed any interest in coaching elsewhere.
It also needs to be noted that ESPN isn't exactly having the greatest Western Conference finals when it comes to being accurate.
Their Bill Simmons had Lamar Odom in a New York City nightclub at 3:44 a.m. Saturday, a report he later admitted was wrong.
And it was an ESPN reporter who Monday, while asking Derek Fisher about Andrew Bynum, referred to Bynum as "Earnest."
Here's a little something for those potential Jackson suitors to consider: He might be losing his touch, his well-chronicled mind games no longer even working with sportswriters.
Jackson's post-Game 3 suggestion of possibly not playing Bynum didn't fool our Kevin Ding, who, minutes after Jackson's claim, said it was simply the coach's way of making Bynum more accountable for his play.
So as other reporters scurried for reaction or wrote that Bynum, in fact, should be benched for his good as well as the team's, Ding wrote that it was all nonsense.
Sure enough, Jackson later would scoff when asked about not playing Bynum, even announcing the team's ailing center "would be fine." And he was in Game 4.
Now, maybe Jackson's tactics worked with Bynum but not with Ding, who might just be wiser than Bynum. He certainly has better knees.
So the Lakers return home, even at 2-2, and they'd be smart to follow one of Jackson's favorite mantras, the one about staying in the moment.
That wouldn't be a bad one for all of us to remember. Because this moment keeps getting better.