L.A. doesn't want to get too comfortable
On the verge of sweeping Utah, the Lakers look for ways to stay motivated
SALT LAKE CITY -- Phil Jackson made his point through punctuation Saturday night.
After postseason wins, it is Jackson's habit to write on the white board in the locker room how many more victories the Los Angeles Lakers need to win the championship. It started with "15 to GO!" and has continued with some variation of a number followed by an exclamation point.
When the locker room cleared out after the Lakers' thrilling Game 3 win against the Utah Jazz to put them up 3-0 in the series, Jackson's message remained on the white board: "9?"
The question mark seemed to represent so many queries at once. Can you believe we've already won seven games?
Do you have what it takes to win nine more?
We've won five in a row already in the playoffs; can we extend that streak by nine more?
What exactly is Twitter, anyway? (Just kidding.)
At Sunday's practice, the Lakers were concentrating on getting one win and closing out the second round in a sweep against Utah, rather than getting nine.
"You never know what will happen in a series," Kobe Bryant said. "As soon as you extend a series, ankles can get turned, muscles can get pulled, groins, things like that. If you have the ability to put the nail in the coffin, it's imperative that you do it."
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Bryant said the main motivation was health and rest. Bryant doubted that he would return to 100 percent during the playoffs, but with time off and treatment, he could get back to 90. He said that if the Suns went on to sweep the Spurs (which they did later on Sunday), then Phoenix would be looking at an extended layoff before the Western Conference finals began. By pulling out a gutsy win in Game 3, the Lakers gave themselves a chance to earn the same extra days off by silencing the Jazz in Game 4.
"That's important," Bryant said. "It makes the game we played [Saturday] worthwhile [if we can win Game 4]."
The Lakers were 3-1 in closeout games last year en route to the title, and they eliminated Oklahoma City the first chance they got on the road in Game 6 of the first round as well.
The Lakers eliminated the Jazz the first chance they got in each of the past two postseasons. Still, Derek Fisher knows how important it is to shut the door on a Jerry Sloan-coached team the first chance you get, having made it all the way to the conference finals in his lone season with Utah in 2006-07.
The Rockets were up 3-2 in the first round in 2007 before the Jazz stormed back to win Games 6 and 7 to advance.
They're not going to quit. So, if we don't beat them, then they'll just continue to take it one game at a time and try to work their way back into this series.” -- Lakers guard Derek Fisher on the Jazz
"It's huge in my opinion," Fisher said. "We can't settle for anything less. Jerry is not a quitter. Never has been as a player or as a coach and he's instilled that in his teams. I've never seen any Jazz team in my lifetime [do that], before I played here as a player for a year or after, they're not going to quit. So, if we don't beat them, then they'll just continue to take it one game at a time and try to work their way back into this series. The job's not over until it's done and [Monday] night is another step that can hopefully get us closer to getting the job done."
Not only was Fisher framing Monday's Game 4 as a chance to get win No. 1 of 9, but he also echoed the sentiments coming out of Jazz camp.
Utah's Carlos Boozer, Fisher's former teammate, told the Salt Lake Tribune on Sunday, "As funny as it sounds, we feel like we're getting closer and closer to getting one and something's got to give on Monday."
Boozer has a point. L.A. won Game 1 by five, Game 2 by eight (but it was a four-point game late in the fourth quarter) and Game 3 by one.
And the Lakers have a knack for finding themselves in close games this postseason. Five of the Lakers' nine games have been decided by five points or fewer while only nine of the 48 games in all the other series from this year's playoffs have been that close.
Last year, the Lakers had the 39-point Finals embarrassment at the hands of Boston to use as motivation. This year, they've battled complacency because all they see in the rearview is confetti pouring down at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum at the end of their parade route.
Bryant said that feeling was jolted out of them in the first round against the hungry Thunder.
"We're there," Bryant said. "We got it. The competition from Oklahoma is probably what did it."
"We have to build that internal pressure regardless of whether we're up or down," Jackson said.
Having hushed the hostile crowd with that win on Saturday night, Jackson knew his players would be flying high come Sunday. He wanted to ask them how many times they can do it again.
That's why Jackson uses a question mark to make his point.Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.