4 things the Lakers need in Game 4 against Dallas
1. Play with composure. The Lakers' 98-92 Game 3 loss Friday to Dallas had some vivid images -- Phil Jackson thumbing at Pau Gasol, yelling at Gasol and Andrew Bynum and the players arguing back. Yes, Jackson deviated from his calm approach; the Lakers' season likely hinged on the outcome of Friday's game -- no NBA team has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit. Still, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant expressed incredible optimism, telling reporters, "I might be sick in the head or crazy, but I still think we're going to win the series." Plenty of fans and members of the media, including yours truly, doubt that will happen. Winning four consecutive games against a quality playoff team is a daunting task, and the Lakers' have some deeply rooted issues not so easily or quickly overcome. Still, they have to take each game as it comes. And it's essential that they play with composure.
No doubt, the Lakers will be tested with a loud crowd at American Airlines Arena and obstacles to overcome including defending Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki. Still, the Lakers can't be overcome by anxiety -- not something you think would be a danger for a two-time defending championship team laden with veteran players. But this team has shown fragility. Pau Gasol's sudden disappearance, Andrew Bynum's revelation of the team's "trust issues" and Ron Artest's one-game suspension in Game 3 because of a clothesline in Game 2 on Dallas guard J.J. Barea all reflect examples of the Lakers' lost composure. Letting that happen again in Game 4 would be, to understate it, counterproductive.
2. Trust one another on defense. Bynum's contention that the Lakers had "trust issues" must have referred to their lapses in Game 2, when players, including himself, rarely helped on rotations out of frustration, having received little help on previous plays. The same scenario played out in Game 3, when Nowitzki scored 32 points on 12-of-19 shooting and the Mavericks went 12-of-29 (41.4%) from three-point range. The loss in rotation usually happened on the second switch, reflecting the Lakers' inconsistent recognition and the team's failure to communicate properly on defense. Artest's appearance in Game 4 should help alleviate that problem because he's the team's best perimeter defender, and the Lakers won't be exposed as much with their "Triple Tower" lineup on transition defense. But it's more important that the Lakers communicate.
3. Show a willingness to make adjustments. The Lakers truly reflected their growth and maturity in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals when they simply refused to lose. Obviously their inspiration was that that one game determined the NBA title. And their inspiration now is to avoid elimination. Should the Lakers manage to pull off the improbable in overcoming a 0-3 deficit, it's likely they will simply have to find a way to grind out a victory. Kobe Bryant seemed eventually to realize he wouldn't be able to shoot himself out of his slump. So he grabbed 15 rebounds and played facilitator, while others around him, including Gasol, Artest, Derek Fisher and Sasha Vujacic, helped make the clutch plays. The Lakers need to operate with that same attitude regarding roles. Both Jackson and his players must show a flexibility in changing their game plan should one player have the hot hand. It's not required that Bryant lead the team in scoring, Bynum lead the charge on the glass and Artest provide the main defensive presence. Everyone should scrap for hustle points while being willing to take on any role.
4. Execute better late in the game. As ugly as the Lakers have looked, they could be leading the series 2-1 had they simply closed out Game 1 and Game 3 in better fashion. Instead, Game 1 featured Gasol making an ill-advised foul on Nowitzki and committing a turnover, Bryant missing two of his final three shots and committing a turnover and Dallas outscoring the Lakers, 25-16, in the final quarter. In Game 3, a similar scenario played out, with Gasol failing to anticipate Bryant's jump pass, Gasol leaving Nowitzki wide open from three-point range and Fisher overthrowing an inbounds pass out of Odom's reach. The Lakers usually don't make these mistakes late in games, but it's cost them, glaringly, so far in the series.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers Coach Phil Jackson shares some thoughts with Kobe Bryant during a timeout in Game 3 in Dallas, May 6, 2011. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times