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Lakers shouldn't see early playoff adversities as lessons


Considering each run to a championship a journey, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson has compared that process to a school year.

The season proves just as long. There are plenty of ups and downs. And there are plenty of teachable moments.

"It's a process that for me I've had great fortune in looking at seasons as something of a long haul where it's going to be an eight-month or seven-and-a-half month project," Jackson said before the 2010-2011 season started. "But in reality, you still have to give import to this opening game or this next game next week or this preseason game."

It's a tough balancing act between ensuring that team members strategically pace themselves without mailing in performances, and ensuring that they play sharp basketball without burning out. The most telling example is the San Antonio Spurs, who looked mostly sharp throughout the season en route to a Western Conference-leading 61-21 record, only to lose a six-game first-round playoff series to the Memphis Grizzlies.

Lakers guard Derek Fisher once argued that the team needs challenges and adversities because that allows for "true growth." That's fair enough, but save those lessons for the regular season.

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Dissecting the final moments of the Lakers' 93-88 Game 4 loss to New Orleans


Overlook Kobe Bryant's scoreless first-half performance. Forget about Chris Paul's triple-double effort. And accept the Lakers' nearly three-quarter stretch in which they didn't grab an offensive rebound.

There's plenty of blame to go around for the Lakers' 93-88 Game 4 loss to the New Orleans Hornets on Sunday, forcing the Lakers to return to New Orleans for Game 6 Thursday and adding further stress to a series they should have controlled.

The Lakers could have secured an ugly win if not for numerous lapses in the final 3:30. There were certainly some key plays in those final minutes that went the Lakers' way, but too many of them were executed the wrong way. Below is a play-by-play account of what went wrong in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.

3:23-2:57. After Derek Fisher hit two free throws to cut the deficit to 83-79, the Hornets' Paul hoped to take advantage of his superior quickness on Fisher in the next possession. But it didn't happen. Hornets center Emeka Okafor tried setting a high pick on Fisher, with Pau Gasol ready to switch on Paul. But Fisher fought through the screen and immediately marked on Paul. Okafor set a screen again at the top of the key, but Fisher spun around the screen and stayed in front of Paul. Once Paul dribbled right, Fisher cut off his penetration and then quickly backed so he wouldn't get beat off the dribble. After Paul dribbled to his left and between the legs, Fisher swiped at the ball. Paul picked up the loose ball, but he had to settle for an off-balance three-pointer that hit off the backboard.

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Lakers' 87-78 Game 2 victory over New Orleans Hornets featured a reliable supporting cast

With the Staples Center crowd cheering during each swing of momentum as if it were an elimination game, Lakers forward Lamar Odom stepped onto center court.

He had just accepted the award as the NBA's sixth man of the year, but it's conceivable that the enthusiasm also represented a boost of support to a team that played Game 1 of its first-round playoffs match-up against New Orleans with the intensity of a regular-season game in mid-January. The scene provided a good illustration of Phil Jackson’s motivational tactic Wednesday during morning shootaround that the announcement of Odom's award a day before Game 2 served one specific purpose.

"The reason that they made sure Lamar had this award was this could be the last time he plays today in front of his whole team," Jackson said with a smile. "They want to make sure that award gets to them at the right time and to go out and prove them wrong."

Jackson was up to one of his usual Zen tricks, and the Lakers laughed at the tactic. But it provided the framework for how the Lakers wanted to change their play after a game featuring poor post play by Pau Gasol, Odom and Andrew Bynum, inconsistency in defending the pick and roll, a bench continuing its inconsistency and an overall effort that suggested the Lakers don't believe the playoffs have actually started.

The Lakers' 87-78 Game 2 victory over the New Orleans Hornets didn't exactly provide a turnaround from everything that had gone wrong in Game 1. Kobe Bryant, Gasol and Derek Fisher combined for 28 points with a seven-of-29 combined clip. The game also featured a third quarter in which both teams were scoreless for a 3:21 stretch. But there were plenty of areas that helped offset that, an encouraging sign for a team looking to take back control of the series.

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NBA 2K11 simulation predicts the Lakers will defeat the New Orleans Hornets in five games

Top photo: The Lakers' Kobe Bryant (24), Pau Gasol (16), Lamar Odom (7) and Shannon Brown (12) will begin defense of their NBA championship on Sunday afternoon at Staples Center against the New Orleans Hornets. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times / April 12, 2011 All week long, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson weighed concerns on whether his team felt truly ready for the playoffs.

He never wavered from his belief that the Lakers have a great shot at three-peating, but Jackson had seen too many inconsistent patterns in play to form a definitive assessment. The Lakers' 17-1 mark after the All-Star break, their five-game losing streak and then two unimpressive victories against  undermanned San Antonio and woefully overmatched Sacramento gave Jackson plenty of reason to pause. Unfortunately for Jackson, what he saw in Saturday's practice didn't alleviate many of his concerns, lamenting what he called the team's "lack of focus."

An NBA 2K11 simulation revealed those fears to be unfounded, though the Lakers entered their first-round match-up with the New Orleans Hornets woefully unprepared, losing the first game of the series. The Lakers woke up from the letdown and then pulled out all the stops the remaining four games to advance to the Western Conference semifinals. So should the Lakers fall when they host the Hornets Sunday at Staples Center in real life, feel comforted that it's simply mimicking the video game simulation.

Below are the details on how each game turned out after the jump.

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