Lakers maintain calm attitude during current struggles
A five-minute interview that consisted of Kobe Bryant offering rapid-fire responses had almost come to an end. In between each of his short and direct answers, a reporter fired another question, ranging from how the Lakers allowed Phoenix to tie the Western Conference Finals at 2-2, the team's poor defense, its struggle against the Suns' zone, its trigger-happy tendencies from three-point range and the importance of Game 5 on Thursday night at Staples Center. Bryant maintained a pretty stoic persona throughout the session, offering neither smiles nor visible frustration. Finally, a reporter openly wondered about his state of being.
"You having fun, Kobe?" he asked.
After pausing, Bryant simply responded, "Sure."
Bryant's far from happy with the Lakers' performance, as is Coach Phil Jackson, who had plenty to critique about the Suns' rebounding advantage (51-36), the Lakers' shooting from three-point range (nine of 28) and the team's defense. But Jackson's comments to his players during Wednesday's practice summed up pretty well how he views the team's current situation.
"Like I told them, if you can't meet this challenge," Jackson said, "why go to the Finals?"That seemed almost a guarantee as recently as last week with the Lakers opening up a 2-0 series lead while Phoenix showed no signs it could shut down the Lakers' numerous options in Bryant, the team's outside game and the suddenly hot outside shooting. Given that closing out the series would've given the Lakers additional time off while Orlando has crept back with Boston, this isn't the scenario Jackson or his players want. But Jackson's comments to his team spoke more of what he hoped served as a teachable moment during the postseason. How a team responds during adverse situations can reveal its true colors better than when things are going smoothly.
"There's absolutely no doubt that we love this," Jackson said. "This is what champions are made of. We had this situation with Oklahoma [in the first round tied 2-2]. We had it with Denver last year in the Finals. It should be like this. This is what it should be if you have the best teams in the West going up against each other. It should come down to a challenge like this. If the teams have the grit and ability, then they're here. Then it should come down to this kind of a challenge. We want to accept that and go forward."
Though the Lakers had been in this predicament before when the Thunder tied the series at 2-2, Jackson pointed to how the circumstance differs given Oklahoma City is a young and upcoming team, while the Suns have more experience, a reason why he views the Lakers' current situation as a greater challenge. I had observed during that time that the Lakers maintained a pretty level-headed approach. The Lakers appeared to have the same mindset during Wednesday's practice, speaking in very matter-of-fact tones and acting neither overly optimistic or pessimistic about the situation.
Clearly, the Lakers have experienced this before, a luxury Lakers guard Derek Fisher acknowledges the team has. But he remained hesitant to give that factor too much credit considering the possibility it can give the team false comfort.
"Experience does count for something but you don't get any points for it in the game," Fisher said. "Obviously we'll take it and we'll utilize it in the right situations. But it's not something we're just leaning on -- because we have more experience that we're supposed to win. There are a lot of situations throughout a game that in terms of preparation for a game and all the things that go into winning playoff games where experience matters. It's not something we feel gives us an edge in a way where we just show up and something's going to happen for us."Even so, the Lakers responded in Game 5 against Oklahoma City with a convincing 111-87 victory. And for what it's worth, Gasol senses the Lakers having the same attitude now as they did entering that contest.
"It's Game 5 and the series is tight," Gasol said. "It's a must win for us. The sense of urgency is total at this point."
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant tries to cut past Phoenix center Robin Lopez, right, as Lakers center Andrew Bynum screens Grant Hill, left, during Game 4 on Tuesday. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times.