And so it’s come to this for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Either make history. Or be history.
L.A. began its Western Conference semifinal series with the Dallas Mavericks looking to become just the fourth team to reach the NBA Finals in four consecutive seasons, joining Bill Russell’s Celtics and the Lakers and Celtics squads of the 1980s in that exclusive club. They now find themselves trying to make history of a very different kind; if they’re going to keep dreams of a second 3Peat alive, the Lakers will need to become just the fourth team to rally from an 0-2 deficit after dropping the first two games on their home court.
"You want to make history, you have to do historic things," Kobe Bryant said.
If the Lakers are looking for inspiration (and they certainly seem to be in need of some), they need look no further than their current opponents. The Mavericks were the last team to turn the trick, following up their two home losses in a 2005 Western Conference semifinal series vs. the Houston Rockets with a pair of road wins en route to a Game 7 victory.
Of course, seeing as how current Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry were on that squad, it seems unlikely that they’ll allow their teammates to experience any sort of emotional letdown in Friday’s Game 3.
"We’re a veteran team," Nowitzki said. "We talked about it, and this series is far from over. I’ve been around a long time. I’ve been up 2-0 before and ended up losing the series. And I’ve been down 2-0, lost both home games to Houston a couple years ago and came back and won in Game 7. So we’ve seen a lot of things happen in this league."
Yes they have. And the Mavericks’ historic rally in ’05 aside, not much of it has been good.
The last time Dallas appeared this poised to win an NBA title, it was the 2006 NBA Finals and the Mavericks were six minutes away from taking an insurmountable 3-0 series lead over the Miami Heat. But after blowing a 13-point lead in those final 360 seconds, the Mavs didn’t win again in that series, falling to the Heat and Dwyane Wade in six games.
That collapse sent the Mavs into a playoff spin from which they are only now emerging — a freefall that included first-round failures in 2007, 2008 and 2010. Even as recently as last week, the Mavericks’ postseason chops were being called into question after blowing a 23-point second-half lead and allowing Portland to even their opening series at 2-2.
But if the first two games of this series are any indication, these Mavericks have clearly learned their history lesson. If their rally from a 16-point third-quarter deficit in Game 1 didn’t convince you, then their unwillingness to be satisfied with a split in Los Angeles should have.
Especially when you consider how the Mavericks won Wednesday night — by holding the two-time defending champs to 32 second-half points and 41 percent shooting from the field.
"It shows the growth of our team," Tyson Chandler said. "We’ve come a long way since training camp as far as our defensive effort and our focus night in and night out."
While the Mavericks seem to have learned from postseasons past, the Lakers continue to make some of the same mistakes that plagued them even during their back-to-back championship runs. To wit:
• In 2009, the Lakers dropped Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals to Houston, then somehow allowed a Yao Ming-less Rockets squad to extend them to seven games before finally advancing.
• In 2010, they protected their home-court advantage, but still allowed series with both a young Thunder team and an old Suns squad to become best-of-three affairs before closing out both.
• In April, L.A. lost its 2011 postseason opener to the woefully undermanned New Orleans Hornets. Then just when it appeared as if the Lakers had regained control of the series, they blew Game 4, forcing a series many had predicted would be a Lakers sweep to go six energy-sapping games.
"We’ve been playing with fire the last three years, dropping games on our home floor," Bryant said. "We finally got what we deserved and we’re down two."
For all their recent postseason experience, these Lakers have no historical precedent for the task now facing them. Unfortunately for them, one of Wednesday night’s developments is reminiscent of a postseason from the not-so-distant past.
Namely, dissension among the ranks.
In the wake of the Game 2 loss, an obviously frustrated Andrew Bynum said: “Obviously we have trust issues and unless we come out and discuss them, nothing is going to change. I think all 13 of our guys have trust issues right now. I mean, I think it’s quite obvious to anybody watching the game — hesitation on passes, defensively not being there for your teammate because he wasn’t there for you before, stuff like that.”
While nobody is suggesting that Bynum’s "trust issues" are approaching anything close to the Shaq-Kobe rift that derailed the previous Lakers dynasty in the 2004 NBA Finals, the public airing of the team’s dirty laundry presents yet another obstacle to a team already facing a significant one.
But for a team that was already trying to make history, what’s a little more? At least, that’s what the Lakers are telling themselves today.
"It’s only been one other time that we’ve been in a position to win a third championship in a row," Lakers point guard Derek Fisher said. "There’s not a script to this. You can’t always anticipate what’s going to happen in this business. Obviously we never anticipated being in this position. But this is what makes stories and history so great to recall sometimes, when you find your way from the depths of everything that seems wrong and just figure out a way to get it done. We have that opportunity right now."