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Lakers' confident attitude may come back to haunt them

April 26, 2011 |  9:02 am

In painstaking detail, Lakers assistant coach Jim Cleamons outlined the scouting report to his players prior to Game 4 of their series against New Orleans with heavy emphasis shutting off the driving lanes for Hornets forwards Carl Landry and Trevor Ariza.

In return, the Lakers allowed them in their 93-88 Game 4 loss Sunday to New Orleans to combine for 35 points on 14-of-28 shooting, just one example of the disconnect between the Lakers recognizing a problem but failing to properly execute it.

"They make me look awfully smart, but at the same time, it's a shame," Cleamons said. "We didn't slide our feet and take the drive away. If that's my observation, I want you to make this adjustment. That's what I'm telling you. Do I have to treat you like a four year old, hit your knuckles or get the whip out? It's a shame, but sometimes you make it harder on yourself."

The Lakers are well accustomed to fitting that storyline. They enter Game 5 Tuesday at Staples Center against New Orleans with a 2-2 series, replacing a lost opportunity in taking control of a series with the possibility that their season-wide complacency could catch up to them.

Yet, the Lakers don't appear worried. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson spent plenty of his time with reporters throwing zingers, even though he had spent the previous night saying the Hornets "punked us" in Game 4. He split hairs about his characterization that the Lakers lacking "desperation" isn't the same as the team lacking "effort" or "urgency." And during an unpleasant four-four flight that involved the team landing in Los Angeles at 3:30 and Kobe Bryant receiving around-the-clock treatment on his sprained left ankle, Jackson couldn't help but find good humor amid all the negativity.

"The state department was landing the same time we were," Jackson said, "so we know the government is working for you, even if the Lakers aren't."

The Lakers' even keeled nature during adversity considering that philosophy has proved largely instrumental in securing back-to-back championships. But it's also given them a false sense of invincibility, believing any lapse in play can immediately be rectified at the flip of a switch. I've outlined in detail before how that notion is misguided, but the Lakers' playoff history has validated their feeling they can play roulette with their playoff fortunes.

It was only a year ago when the Lakers had a 2-2 series against Oklahoma City and Bryant wondered why reporters were wondering if the Lakers' "backs are against the wall," answering with an overwhelming Game 5 victory en route to first-round win in six games and ultimately an NBA championship. It was only two years ago when the Lakers went a full seven games with the Houston Rockets despite the absence of Yao Ming, Dikembe Mutumbo and Tracy McGrady, testing the insanity level of every Laker fan out there. But after a pendulum swing between boredom and effort between games, the Lakers ultimately prevailed. This time, the Lakers are making it harder for themselves again.

"We've been playing this style of basketball all year. It would've been nice to sweep them over there and finish it off, but it didn't happen for us, Lakers center Andrew Bynum said. OKC just surprised the heck out of us. we didn't realize they were capable of putting together games like they did. tTis team, we were able to win four teams , but they learned from it."

Yes, the Hornets learned that the Lakers' size advantage only works if the Lakers are actually aggressive, making them an unreliable factor all series, preventing them from making offensive rebounds for a near three-quarter stretch and beating them 20-4 in second-chance points, a statistic Jackson said "made a big difference in the game." The Lakers instead, as indicated by Cleamons, are fending off for themselves. They're tuning him out on defensive assignments. Bryant is refusing diagnostic test, including an MRI and X-rays on his left ankle, even though it'd give him and the medical staff a better idea of the severity of his injury and won't jeopardize his playing status for Game 5. And Lakers forward Pau Gasol seems reluctant in taking charge of a leadership role, leaning on the fact Bryant will likely play instead of using it as an opportunity to help alleviate his workload.

This attitude may not hurt the Lakers in this round. But it could against the likes of Portland or Dallas, Oklahoma City or anyone in the Eastern Conference, all teams that will present greater challenges than Chris Paul and the Hornets can present. Hopefully for the Lakers, they'll be awake by then.

"They certainly play better when they're in a desperate mode," Jackson said. "There's no doubt about that. we've had times in the season where we go out and do the job we're requierd to do. this particular night we didn't fulfill it all the way through."

--Mark Medina

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