Lakers' recent first-round losses to Phoenix remain fresh on their minds
With the Lakers nearly a week away from Game 1 of Western Conference Finals against Phoenix, the Lakers have plenty of time to rest their assorted injuries, prepare for the resurgent Suns and of course, reflect on their first-round losses in 2006 and 2007 to Phoenix.
That era was a much different time than it is today. The Lakers field only six players who lost to the Suns during that time, including Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, Luke Walton, Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic. The Lakers have since acquired Derek Fisher and Pau Gasol, have won a championship, made the NBA Finals twice and just recently secured their first Western Conference appearance. That's why Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and Coach Phil Jackson downplayed any notion that the team is using their first-round losses as motivation heading into their Western Conference matchup.
But at least for Bynum, the memories still linger.
"The reverse sweep was ridiculous," Bynum said of the Lakers' 2006 first-round loss to Phoenix. We were up 3-1 and then lost three in a row. Everybody remembers that. And it's definitely payback time."
The Lakers entered their 2006 first-round matchup in a jovial and light-hearted mood. During his media briefing before Game 1, Jackson reached for a phone on the wall and asked if it could be used in case of an emergency. Players laughed at clips of "Inside Man" that Jackson inserted into film leading up to the game. And even Bryant remained jovial following the team's 107-102 Game 1 loss, despite Jackson's charge that Bryant's lack of aggression resulted in 12 points on four of 15 shooting.
It appeared the Lakers corrected their problems. Bryant responded in the team's 99-93 Game 2 victory with more aggression, finishing with 29 points on 12 of 24 shooting, 10 rebounds and five assists. Walton, Kwame Brown and Smush Parker, of all people, combined for 38 points in the Lakers' 99-92 Game 3 win. And Bryant made two clutch shots in the Lakers' 99-98 Game 4 overtime victory, including a layup with 0.7 of a second left in the fourth quarter and a 17-footer over two defenders just before overtime ended.
With a 3-1 series lead, the Lakers were well on their way to meeting the Clippers and making something of a crosstown rival. Instead, Phoenix became just the eighth team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit.
The Lakers didn't cough up a series lead the following season. Instead, they just coughed up the series, period. They scored only 10 fourth-quarter points en route to a Game 1 95-87 loss. The Lakers' 126-98 Game 2 loss nearly marked the organization's worst playoff defeat, a dishonor going to their 112-77 embarrassment at Utah in 1988. After rebounding with a 95-89 Game 3 win, Steve Nash's 23 assists proved to be too much in the Lakers' 113-100 Game 4 loss and their series-ending 119-110 Game 5 loss previewed what would become a turbulent off-season.
"Do something, and do it now," Bryant told reporters after the game. "Personally for me, it's beyond frustration. Three years and still being at ground zero. This summer's a big summer. We have to see what direction we want to take this organization. Make those steps and make them now."
Of course, Bryant's demands soon escalated into his desire for the team to trade him, as well as Bynum. That was a much different mood than what the Lakers, including Bryant, displayed after Tuesday's practice. They talked about the team's sharpness during its six-game winning streak, how they feel Bynum can provide a dangerous threat against an undersized Phoenix team and how Gasol's consistency has helped the Lakers stay afloat.
That contrast shows how far the Lakers have come ever since those two first-round exits. Even if the team remained split on whether those losses would motivate them, Jackson doesn't see the mindset having a bearing affect.
Said Jackson: "As soon as the tip goes up, I think they're playing ball."