One Game at a Time: That was the central theme of the shootaround session. The Lakers are trying to focus only on winning Game 5, and not thinking about the fact that they’re down 3-1 and would have to win three straight, including two on the road, to win the series. That’s always in the “easier said than done” area, but it’s the only sensible way to approach a game.
Mental Frustration: The angst of a team that feels like it was in great position to win two of the three games they lost, the Lakers blowing a 7-point lead with two minutes left in Game 2 and a 9-point lead with six minutes to play in Game 4 is high. But that’s also part of the “one game at a time” mindset, the dismissal of emotion from earlier in the series, if possible.
Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are tall: It’s always a good reminder how long the two largest Lakers are when leaving shootaround with a stiff neck from staring straight up.
The 7-Footers: Speaking of tall people … the Lakers clearly need to get a bigger impact from Bynum and Gasol than the two bigs were able to produce in the second half of Game 4, tired legs or not, if they’re to win Game 5. They combined for only eight points and four boards in that fateful second half after playing quite well in the previous 10 quarters of the series. Expect Gasol in particular to step up early, after he took what was probably an unfair amount of blame for L.A.’s crunch time woes in Game 4 as he opted to make a dangerous pass that Kevin Durant intercepted instead of taking an open shot in the final minute. The prideful Spaniard will look to respond as he did to a poor Game 6 at Denver, when he exploded for 23 points, 17 rebounds, six assists and four blocks in Game 7.
Pick and Roll D: The biggest adjustment the Lakers made between a blowout loss in Game 1 and three consecutive tight games played mostly at their pace came on pick and roll defense. The Lakers changed Bynum’s coverages in particular, encouraging him to show hard and bother Russell Westbrook when he came hard off screen/rolls, and for the most part it really worked well. Westbrook was shooting below 40 percent in Games 2 and 3 and the first half of Game 4, but eventually Bynum (though it wasn’t him on every possession) tired and Westbrook exploded for 23 points in the second half of Game 4. Fatigue had to have been an issue in the rare playoff back to back. For those looking for an explanation: Bynum had played 40 minutes in Game 3, and then over 42 in Game 4, having previously played consecutive 40-minute games only in a March 13/14 back to back at Memphis and New Orleans, in which both games went to overtime. It’s also possible that Bynum had gotten frustrated with his lack of touches on offense especially in the fourth quarter, which at times affected his defensive production throughout the season.
World Peace Seeks 1-on-1 Assignment: Metta World Peace praised OKC’s coaching staff for running Durant off all kinds of down screens, often involving the over-physical Kendrick Perkins, to free the NBA’s leading scorer throughout the series. World Peace relishes chances to defend Durant 1-on-1, but pointed out that it’s very rare Durant isn’t getting a screen of some sort. That makes MWP’s job more difficult, which is one of the reasons why he’s been so determined to fight Durant when he’s off the ball and try to deny him the ball in the first place. On offense, OKC has been helping off MWP quite a bit to double Bynum (most often) and Gasol, and World Peace nailed four triples in Game 4. He is shooting 38 percent from three in his five postseason games.
Sessions in the Mix: After two quiet road games to start the series, point guard Ramon Sessions was more assertive at STAPLES Center, taking nine shots in each home game (22 total points) after attempting only 10 total in OKC (four points). He added nine collective assists after managing only three total in Games 1 and 2, causing the Thunder some problems with his penetration off screen/rolls. However, Steve Blake’s been getting the crunch time minutes – and has played well in them – so Sessions hasn’t been able to impact the games late. L.A. will need his aggression and speed in Game 5.
Elimination Games: Courtesy of the Lakers Game Notes: The Lakers are 44-42 in postseason elimination games (games in which a loss would end a Lakers playoff run), going 35-36 since moving to Los Angeles and 9-6 while playing in Minneapolis. Since 2000, the Lakers are 9-6 in 15 elimination games: Game 7 of the WC First Round vs. Denver (W), Game 4 of the WC Semifinals at Dallas (L), Game 6 & 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals vs. Boston (W), Game 7 of the 2009 WC Semifinals vs. Houston (W), Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals at Boston (L), Game 5 of the 2008 NBA Finals vs. Boston (W), Game 5 of the 2007 WC First Round at Phoenix (L), Game 7 of the 2006 WC First Round at Phoenix (L), Game 5 of the 2004 NBA Finals at Detroit (L), Game 6 of the 2003 WC Semis versus San Antonio (L), Game 7 of the 2002 WC Finals at Sacramento (W), Game 6 of the 2002 WC Finals vs. Sacramento (W), Game 7 of the 2000 WC Finals vs. Portland (W) and Game 5 of the 2000 WC First Round vs. Sacramento (W).