Lakers take even-handed approach during latest adversity
Before the season started, every member of the Lakers received a yearly planner with a message the team hoped to remember during the 2009-10 campaign. The phrase, "It's hard to do twice," is displayed boldly at the top of the planner, serving perhaps as a reminder that the Lakers' prospects to defend their 2008-09 championship involves a seasonwide effort.
The Lakers reminded themselves of that planner as they once again experience another speed bump. Lakers guard Derek Fisher mentioned the team's handbook as the Lakers continued to process what to make of their 110-89 loss Saturday in Game 4 to the Oklahoma City Thunder. And by the tenor of Monday's practice, it appeared the Lakers currently approach their 2-2 series against Oklahoma City with an even-handed attitude. The Lakers provided zero excuses for their play, but they also maintained their latest loss doesn't dampen their chances to rebound Tuesday in Game 5 at Staples Center.
It's not surprising the team chose the aforementioned phrase to define the 2009-10 season. But what's interesting is how it can be interpreted. On one hand, no team has defended its title since the Lakers' three-peat from 2000 to 2002. Yet, the frequent success happens enough for top teams, such as the Lakers, to realistically aim for a championship each season. Case in point, the Lakers and San Antonio Spurs have won a combined eight titles in the last 11 seasons, showing that winning with such regularity isn't an unrealistic expectation. The only thing that adds a wrinkle entails that the chances to repeat, statistically speaking, are fairly slim.
That leaves the Lakers with plenty of options on how to react. They can act frustrated that this is the latest example of a talented team not playing to its capability. They can brush off the loss because of their ability to bounce back. Or they can split it down the middle and share both attitudes by recognizing the need to stave off a confident Thunder team while also maintaining their composure. Lakers forward Pau Gasol and Lakers guard Kobe Bryant illustrated that dichotomy. Consider Gasol's take on Game 5: "We can't afford to lose this game." Then consider Bryant's response when a reporter suggested the team has its back against the wall with the series tied 2-2: "Who says our backs are against the wall? It's a 2-2 series. What the hell is going on around here?"
The mixed reactions don't make it surprising that the Lakers dealt with their latest loss in different ways.
Some opted to rest. Bryant spent the team's day off Sunday and during the team's practice Monday to get treatment on his assorted injuries. He has actually recently healed from the avulsion fracture to his right index finger, a team spokesman said, though Bryant currently has arthritis in the joint of the same finger. Meanwhile, Bryant reported better progress in his sprained left ankle and sore right knee. The same goes for Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic., who believes he's recovered enough from his sprained left ankle that he will return to the court for the Western Conference semifinals assuming the Lakers advance.
Lakers forward Ron Artest reacted by making cosmetic changes. For the second time this season, Artest shaved off his bleached hair. Although he's remained mum on his constant flip-flopping in hair styles, it appears that Artest doesn't want his dyed hair to become a distraction. So much for that whole lightening up the mood idea.
There were others who just needed time away from basketball, but for different reasons. Lakers forward Josh Powell missed practice Monday, spending the morning with his wife, Lauren, who delivered their son, Joshua Dominique Rajae Powell Jr, at 10:25 a.m. (he checked in at 7 pounds, 13 ounces and 22.5 inches).
Then there were others who just needed time to get their mind off things. Fisher shared that most of the team didn't watch tape of their loss on the team's day off on Sunday as well as most of the playoff games on television. In fact, the only game Fisher watched included Utah's 117-106 victory over Denver "because that will be our next-round matchup," perhaps a Freudian slip that Fisher believes the team will still advance in the first round, a subtle comment to rally his teammates or both.
And then there was the coaching staff that went through the entire tape to list all the areas they want the team to correct. There were plenty. The Thunder went 42 of 48 from the free-throw line, while the Lakers finished only 17 of 28 (60.7%). The Lakers yielded 24 fast-break points. And they were outrebounded, 50-43. Although Lakers Coach Phil Jackson wants his team to sharpen in those three areas, he found the Game 4 performance so egregious that he found no use taking away anything definitive from it.
"You have to let that one go down the drain, flush it down the toilet and let it go," he said. "You don't have to bring it back up again and analyze it."
-- Mark Medina
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