Tuesday is make - or break - for Lakers - NBC Sports

Tuesday is make - or break - for Lakers
Kobe & co. are on a roll, but if they can't beat the Thunder it might not matter
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Metta World Peace, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and the Lakers are 5-1 since the All-Star break.
March 4, 2013, 4:03 pm

But Tuesday night's game at Oklahoma City might be the single most defining moment in their tumultuous 2012-13 campaign.

The Lakers are coming off a stirring 99-98 victory over the Atlanta Hawks at Staples Center. Their performance had its flaws, to be sure - especially the squandering of a 16-point lead in the second half - but they showed resiliency and fortitude when it counted. And Kobe Bryant was killer.

But earlier on Sunday, the Thunder played the Clippers in the same building. The dudes from Oklahoma put their game on cruise control and won handily. Sure, the Clips made a run at the end. Yet you never really got the feeling that OKC's grip on victory was anything less than firm. The Thunder is quick and lethal, and it showed once again.

Tuesday night's contest in Oklahoma City will illustrate once and for all whether this effort by the Lakers to compete for and squeeze into the No. 8 spot in the West's playoff lineup is worth talking about.

What is more important for the Lakers is whether they're good enough to defeat an elite team like OKC, or San Antonio, on the road. Because if they can't, then just making the playoffs is a face-saving gesture at best. They'll be out before the ink is dry on the team's playoff guide.

The Lakers are 5-1 since the All-Star break. They're playing smarter basketball, and they're playing together. But they're also just spinning their wheels if they can't beat a quality opponent like the Thunder. Then it becomes just talk, and that has been cheaper than usual for the Lakers this season.

A little Beatle therapy for McIlroy
When I heard about Rory McIlroy walking off the course in the middle of the Honda Classic, naturally my thoughts turned to the Beatles and Tiger Woods.

Huh? Just sit back and relax. I'll explain.

If you mark the beginning of the Beatles from the time John Lennon first met Paul McCartney at a church fete in Liverpool on July 6, 1957, that means that the Beatles - in some form - lasted from that moment until they slowly dissolved the group during a period in 1969-70.

For most of those years, from about early 1962 until the end, they were under intense scrutiny and pressure. Yet they only got stronger creatively, and produced music that has stood the test of time. So the examination of their breakup is silly. The real miracle is that they stayed together for as long as they did, and that they were so incredibly productive.

Tiger had a mishap with his now ex-wife and an SUV, which triggered a scandal and caused the decline in his career. But that was only one instance in which everything went sideways. For the bulk of his career, Tiger had been operating under pressure that would crush lesser men. And yet he has managed to post 14 major victories and 75 PGA Tour wins.

Rory McIlroy is 23, he's only been No. 1 in the world for about a year, and already he's walking off golf courses in disgust. Not a good sign.

If I were Rory, I'd put on something like "Baby, You're a Rich Man" or "Good Day Sunshine" instead of "I'm Down" or "I'm a Loser," watch some footage of Tiger in his glory days, and then get back to work. It's too soon to be falling apart.

A positive outcome
Whenever you hear the topic raised of a gay professional athlete coming out, most of the reaction is a discussion about the negative: Teammates will be uncomfortable, fans will be merciless, the franchise will suffer through a media circus, etc.

But that's all wrong. It's more likely that the opposite will occur. The positives will prevail.

First, it will take courage for a pro athlete in this country - particularly one involved in the NFL, NBA, MLB or NHL - to come out. But athletes generally admire someone who shows courage. They respect someone who will stand up for what he or she believes, no matter what the consequences. It's called leadership.

Second, most professional athletes are protective of their own. So when this individual does come out in public and endures any abuse from outsiders, his teammates will rally around that athlete. Certainly some of his teammates may feel uncomfortable at first. But that will quickly pass. The natural instinct of team members to stick together will win out.

As for the franchise itself, sure, there will be some negative response at first. Yet that club will rapidly be recognized as a pioneer, and it will receive more praise than punishment. Its standing in the community and the world will be elevated. It will not only be an organization that will go down in history as one that showed guts, it will also be recognized as influential, because more athletes and more teams will be inspired to follow its example whenever a gay athlete is involved.

The world is changing on this issue faster than anyone could have anticipated. In fact, by the time an athlete does come out in one of those leagues, the positives will have a lengthy lead on the negatives.

Crazy like a Worm
Most observers seem to be missing the brilliance in this Dennis Rodman visit to North Korea.

So who better to send over to there to influence Kim Jong Un?

I predict that within a week, Kim Jong Un will be wearing a wedding dress in public. He will have his nose and ears pierced, and will be sporting nipple rings. His body will be covered in tattoos. His back will have one of a half woman/half serpent, and there will be others depicting crosses and motorcycles and stars.

The young North Korean dictator will probably start to frequent bars in beach communities, and he'll cause a lot of trouble. Granted, because he is the leader of a totalitarian nation, judges in North Korea will be more likely to let him slide as opposed to judges in the U.S. with Rodman. But it will all contribute to an unstable regime.

Just about everybody in North Korea follows the leader's example. Can you imagine a nation of 24 million Dennis Rodmans? It would be chaos. Anarchy. North Korea would become easy pickings for the United States and its allies to step in quietly and perform a bloodless coup.

Exactly. So who would you rather send over there to weaken North Korea? John Kerry?

A game of pepper

  • The coach of Bulgaria's national wrestling team has gone on a hunger strike to protest the IOC's decision to eliminate the sport from the Olympics. Seems to me that, with most wrestlers, there's a fine line between a hunger strike and making weight anyway. ...
  • After finishing second in voting for the American League's MVP award last season, Mike Trout received a raise from the Angels that brought him up to only $20,000 above the major league minimum. I have to think there was some sort of mix-up in the Angels' accounting department and someone thought they were paying for actual trout. ...
  • Yankees outfielder Ichiro Suzuki was uninjured in a traffic accident in Tampa that totaled his SUV. The driver of the other vehicle was cited. This is one of the rare situations that can be scored both a "hit" and an "error." ...
  • Saw the season premiere of "Vikings" on the History Channel Sunday night. Most of their success came from their ground game. ...
  • News item: The NRA is set to sponsor a Sprint Cup race. Reaction: The right to bear left shall not be infringed. ...
  • What Blake Griffin needed on Sunday was a Serge protector. ...

Michael Ventre is a regular contributor to NBCSports.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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