The three-peat … Phil Jackson’s almost ridiculous quest for a fourth three-peat in his final season … legendary status in NBA annals … Kobe Bryant chasing Michael Jordan’s sixth title … and so on, and so forth.
But with two games against Dallas that L.A. couldn’t finish, and another where they had nothing close to their “A” game, the Lakers are suddenly and shockingly in a 3-0 hole, needing four straight wins against an excellent, veteran, hungry Mavericks team just to escape the Western Semi’s.
And as you may have heard just once or twice, no team in league history has done that before, even if the Red Sox and three NHL squads managed to pull off the hugely improbable, which Lamar Odom and Kobe Bryant respectively pointed out.
But the one constant theme from Saturday’s Lakers practice at American Airlines Arena had nothing to do with talk of massive comebacks, of coaching legacies or of opportunities blown.
Jackson was asked if his players might get caught up in all of it, but he answered that it’s simply about Sunday.
“They’re fine,” he said. “They’re ready to go out and win this game and they’re not thinking about anything else. I told them not to think about (3-0). That’s not what you’re thinking about. You’re thinking about winning tomorrow’s game, forcing another game in L.A. on Tuesday … It’s just in the moment type activity.”
Then Kobe Bryant repeated Jackson’s message. So on with Andrew Bynum. And then Pau Gasol.
It’s the Spaniard, of course, that’s had his most difficult stretch of games as a Laker since joining the team in 2008. He’s averaging 13.3 points and 9.7 rebounds in Round 2, down from 18.8 and 10.2 in the regular season, and shooting only 42.9 percent, which stands out for a career 52.2 percent shooter. Gasol acknowledged that he’s struggling mentally to deal with a slump he said is unprecedented in his career, but Jackson did have one basketball explanation.
“They’re taking him out of the post so he can’t get a tight post spot,” he explained. “Pau’s got to move out and face the basket, and play more of a pinch post and active role in screen rolls. He’s obviously frustrated that he couldn’t get anything accomplished in there, but his defense was I thought exceptional last night.”
There was no lack of respect for how well Dallas has played, and in particular, has finished games (“They made it happen, you have to give them credit,” said Phil). But the Lakers think they played the game they wanted to, save for the final and fatal few minutes.
Jackson thinks getting Ron Artest back off his Game 3 suspension will help restore the team’s favored rotations, leaving Odom and Gasol in particular more energy for crunch time. Meanwhile, the primary defensive adjustment L.A. tried to make in Game 3 but couldn’t accomplish is to run Dallas off the three-point line, which worked a few times but ultimately resulted in the Mavs hitting 12 three-pointers, five of which (gulp) came in the fourth quarter.
Jackson has no problem if his players are worrying about such details as defensive rotations or offensive ball movement … as long as they’re not thinking about anything ahead of Sunday.
It’s Game 4, and Game 4 alone.