Lakers want to shut multiple doors
L.A. would love to say good-bye to the Thunder, their many injuries and perception
OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Los Angeles Lakers were welcomed by wind gusts up to 35 miles per hour when they arrived here Thursday.
Anybody who has ever tried to close a door to a room where a wind tunnel has been created from an open window knows how difficult it can be. But that's precisely what the Lakers will try to do Friday: close out their first-round series in Game 6 by shutting the door on Oklahoma City, denying any window of opportunity the Thunder might have of extending it to Game 7.
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History is on the Lakers' side for them to win the series, as 85.5 percent of teams up 3-2 in best-of-seven series in the history of the NBA playoffs have gone on to advance. But, at this point, winning one out of two isn't good enough. Los Angeles should be aiming to win one out of one and get this thing over with.
A win in Game 6 at the Ford Center would help mend one reality and help dispel another reputation the Lakers are living with.
The reality is that the Lakers are injury plagued. Kobe Bryant's body trauma trifecta -- right knee, left ankle and right index finger -- is still nowhere near 100 percent. Andrew Bynum said as recently as before Game 4 that his left Achilles tendon was starting to feel worse than it did at the start of the playoffs. Ron Artest and Lamar Odom both had bothersome left shoulders at Thursday's practice and Artest and Shannon Brown are playing with bum thumbs, too. Ending the series Friday would (A) save the Lakers one game of wear, which matters if they plan on playing until June, and (B) give the Lakers a chance at an extra couple of days' rest before the second round starts if the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz go to Game 7.
The reputation is that the Lakers can't win on the road. Despite finishing with the third-best overall record in the league, the Lakers were only tied for the sixth-best road record during the regular season, going 23-18. Los Angeles has lost seven of its past eight away from Staples Center if you include losses in Games 3 and 4 to the Thunder. The Lakers' lone win in that span came against the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves.
There's also the issue of the Lakers finally settling on an identity. Are they a bunch of lollygaggers who flip the switch, or did they learn their lesson in Game 5 when Pau Gasol said, "We really came out with that attitude [of] making them understand that it's not going to happen, that they're not going to have a chance to move on." A lackluster effort on Friday will make us forget about that 24-point win on Tuesday and further accept the fact the Lakers are sports' equivalent to the two-faced girl on "Seinfeld." (YouTube link here.)
I remember being a little kid and nailing a long jump shot on the hoop at the end of the driveway, prompting me to yell over to my grandpop, who was visiting at the time, to tell him what I just did. "That's luck," he said. "Do it two times in a row, then I'll be impressed."
For all of the faults the Lakers had last postseason, they actually were impressive in closeout games, especially on the road.
The Lakers were 3-1 in closeout situations last year, eliminating the Utah Jazz at home the first chance they got in Game 5; laying a 15-point egg of a loss on the road against the Houston Rockets before prevailing at home in Game 7; completely destroying the Denver Nuggets by 27 in Game 6 at the Pepsi Center; and completing their run to the championship with a champagne shower in the visitor's locker room in Orlando after Game 5 of the Finals.
"There's definitely a different feeling about closing out a team on the road," Derek Fisher said. "I think you just feel like it's you and your team against the whole city and the whole arena and you've faced everything -- the good start or the bad start; or you were ahead and they fought back or you were behind and you fought back. There are a lot of things that come out of good road wins and playoff road wins in particular, elimination games."
If you don't shut the door the first chance you get, you never know what can happen. On the flip side of that 85.5 percent statistic in favor of the Lakers are the 14.5 percent of cases in which the team down 3-2 comes back to win the series.
Bryant, Odom, Phil Jackson, Luke Walton and Sasha Vujacic know what that's like. In 2006 they were all with the Lakers when they had a 3-1 lead in the first round against the Suns and lost their first closeout opportunity by 17 in Game 5, lost their second go at it by eight in overtime of Game 6 and lost their third chance, and the series, by 31 in Game 7.
The wind will be blowing outside. The Lakers better not blow this opportunity.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com
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