HANG TIME PLAYOFF HEADQUARTERS – If the Los Angeles Lakers are nervous at all about the task ahead — fighting off elimination in the Western Conference semifinals in a back-to-back set tonight and tomorrow at home — they’re doing a splendid job of faking it.
From Kobe Bryant to Andrew Bynum to Pau Gasol to Jack Nicholson (sorry, we threw him in there for effect), there seems to be no worry about anything going wrong in Game 3 tonight at Staples Center (10:30 ET, ESPN). After outplaying the Thunder for 46 of the 48 minutes in Game 2, the Lakers act as if they’ve solved the Rubik’s Cube that is Oklahoma City.
“We know exactly how to defend them,” Bynum said. “We’re actually confident.”
Maybe someone forgot to tell Bynum that the Lakers are facing more than just a survival game tonight; no team has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit to win a series. They’re facing that game with their backs firmly against the wall, on back-to-back nights.
The last time they were in this position was during 1999 Western Conference semifinals — the last lockout-shortened season. L.A. lost Games 3 and 4 to the San Antonio Spurs as Tim Duncan and David Robinson kicked off that franchise’s championship era.
Bryant was a part of that series, but feels one has absolutely nothing to do with the other. In fact, he’s not particularly concerned with the back-to-back set.
“I prefer not to have it” he said, “but I feel well rested. Everybody else feels well rested. We’ll be ready for it.”
The Lakers have no choice.
Facing a Thunder squad loaded with young, 20-something legs, the bounce back after Game 3, win or lose, figures to be much more physically taxing on the Lakers.
The Lakers went 9-9 in the first game of a back-to-back in the regular season and 10-9 in the second or third game (there were back-to-back-to-back sets during the condensed regular season). The Thunder, on the other hand, went 15-4 on the first night of back-to-backs in the regular season and 14-6 on the second or third night of a back-to-back sets.
Even more taxing than the psychological and emotional resilience needed after their two-minute meltdown in the final moments of their Game 2 loss, when they fumbled a seven-point lead and lost by 77-75 in a game that could have made this back-to-back set an opportunity for the Lakers to shift this pressure onto the Thunder.
Lakers coach Mike Brown would settle for simply continuing what the Lakers started in those first 46 minutes of Game 2. They’ve already made the defensive adjustments needed to slow the Thunder down … they just didn’t finish the job.
“What we’re doing is not anything special,” he said. “And at this point of this season, if we can’t sustain it, we don’t deserve to win.”
That’s why Brown is doing his best to maintain some sense of calm in a sea of craziness this weekend that includes those back-to-back sets for both the Lakers and their Staples Center roommates, the Los Angeles Clippers. They face a similar 0-2 hole against the Spurs in the other conference semifinal.
“I have to make sure that I am as calm and collected, or poised or however you call it, when I’m around those guys during the course of a game,” Brown said. “If they see panic in me and see I’m tense or concerned or worried in a negative way … because everybody is concerned about doing things in the right way, and giving effort and executing and effort and following the game plan and all that stuff … but if they see that I don’t have faith, they’ll feel it and they’ll feel the same way. So I try to stay loose in front of them, but in the same breath be focused, not only off the floor but when we’re on the floor in the course of a game, too. I try not to get bent out of shape and yell, too much. Because at this point in the season the yelling and stuff doesn’t work.”
The Lakers have to be in “whatever works” mode tonight.
They either save their season with a win tonight or start preparing for the inevitability that the end, of this season at least, is near.