The demise of the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2011 NBA playoffs is one of the most interesting case studies the NBA has provided in years. If you need a refresher, they entered the playoffs as the two-time defending champions, but things did not go well. They had far more trouble than they should have in the first round, and then were swept by Dallas in the second round. To say they were swept doesn’t do justice to how badly they were beaten. The first game was close, but the next three really weren’t. The last five quarters the team played were a total and utter disaster. In a word, they quit. I don’t like to accuse teams of doing that because it is a serious offense, but there is no other way you can look at the total and utter collapse of the Lakers in this series. It was really, really ugly.
We could spend hours looking at the specific reasons why it happened, but looking back is only interesting in sports betting if it prepares for looking forward. Instead of looking at specifics, let’s look at seven general factors that the Lakers showed us that could be a sign that other NBA teams could be ready to quit in the playoffs. It might not be as dramatic or unexpected as the Lakers’ collapse was, but if you can spot the signs before they become obvious to everyone then you could be well positioned to make some serious profits from your sports bets:
Injury to key player – Sports bettors are generally pretty good at dealing with a team that is missing their star player because of an injury. They are far less effective, though, when the player is hurt but still able to play. Kobe Bryant provided a very interesting example in this series. He was badly hurting, and was not entirely effective in the series. As significantly, though, he didn’t practice at all in the playoffs. That had a huge effect on the intensity of the practice because they couldn’t practice as they would be playing since Bryant is central to everything the team is doing. It also widened the cracks in team chemistry which we will discuss in a minute. This was a perfect example of how it is important to not just look at who isn’t playing. You need to spend the time and effort to find reports of who is playing hurt, who isn’t participating in practice, or who is getting a lot of extra therapy and attention. Most people won’t do that work, so if you do it you can have a handicapping edge.
Coaching issues – Phil Jackson is probably the best coach ever in the NBA. It was not his finest year, though. His health and his job status were a distraction throughout the year, and unlike past years he was seemingly unable to keep conflicting egos in check and focused on the task. Jackson had long been a very good reason to bet on a team, but this year that didn’t seem to be the case. It’s a good reminder that you need to be sure that you are judging coaches on current performance and not banking on their reputation.
Chemistry issues – Have you ever seen a top level, elite NBA team send so much time airing their laundry in public during the season? A blind man could have seen the chemistry issues this team had. The face of their franchise called out his teammates more than once down the stretch. Teams that win in the playoffs are teams that are totally and utterly on the same page. If a team doesn’t seem to be that way then when the going gets tough they aren’t likely to get going and that means they’re not a good team to wager on.
Matchup problems – Injuries and intensity led to matchup issues that the Lakers couldn’t seem to overcome. Sometimes those matchup issues are even more obvious and glaring. If a team has a physical, mental or talent edge it is going to be hard to overcome over the course of a long playoff series. It’s crucial when handicapping the playoffs to not focus on how good the team is as a whole, but how they match up in each position in scheme and philosophy, and in their ability to adjust and surprise their opponent. As an example, if there are major problems with matchups upfront at center or in the backcourt at point guard, this can mean trouble.
Weighed down by expectations – The Lakers had won two NBA Championships in a row, and it seemed inevitable to many that they were going to get Jackson yet another three-peat. Those expectations weer obviously too much for them to handle, and they struggled under them instead of being motivated by them. Obviously most teams aren’t going for a repeat, never mind a three-peat, but that doesn’t mean that expectations aren’t going to be smothering for them. If the home fans and media are heavily expecting an outcome and the team doesn’t seem relaxed in the pursuit of that outcome then there could be problems ahead. If they feel that they aren’t going to reach those expectations – and they have some other problems on this list as well – then they could just quit.
Cockiness – It probably wasn’t the biggest problem facing the team, but there were certainly players on their roster who felt that they were entitled to accomplish what they had. When they struggled, then, those players didn’t panic or play with added urgency or effectiveness because they felt like things would come around because they deserved it (I’m talking about you, Ron Artest). In the NBA, teams need to be extremely confident to win in the playoffs, but if that confidence crosses a line into cockiness, and that cockiness doesn’t seem to translate into drive and intensity, the team could be in real trouble.
Carrying problems from regular season – The Lakers were a total mess at the end of the regular season. they couldn’t beat anyone, they weren’t healthy, and they were bickering and infighting. They were making a lot of news for all the wrong reasons and much of it had little to do with what they did on the court. The record of teams doesn’t always matter down the stretch of the regular season because there are a lot of reasons why a team could really not care about wins. If the problems that cased those losses are significant and systemic, though, then it could be a clear sign of big issues ahead. Sports bettors who can anticipate this can also cash in on it.