- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Lakers are one win away from advancing to the second round and have two days before their first chance at closing out their series against the pesky Thunder in Oklahoma City in Game 6 on Friday.
After playing the first four games of the series in seven days, the schedule stretched out to give Los Angeles two games in between Games 4 and 5 as well, and the extra 24 hours played a major role in the Lakers' 24-point victory Tuesday.
Kobe Bryant was able to spend a day rehabbing his right knee, left ankle and arthritic right index finger. Andrew Bynum was able to get extra treatment on his left Achilles tendon. The rest of the Lakers roster was able to mend from their various bumps and bruises.
But the double day off is as much about preparation as it is about rest.
"I think it helped all of us, not just from a physical standpoint, but more so even just from a strategic standpoint of really gaining an understanding of the things that happened the first three or four games and what we could do going into the fifth game that could work well for us as a group," Derek Fisher said. "Having that extra day to think about offensively, some things we could do better, defensively, whether we want to adjust matchups the way we did, I think all of those things work to our advantage having the extra day.
"Games where we've really done well we've had a day or two between to really think about it, talk about it, invest in it as a group and put it out there on the floor."
In between Saturday and Tuesday, the Lakers circled two problem areas that really were intertwined: Stopping the Thunder's fastbreak advantage that was 72-17 in Oklahoma City's favor through Games 1-4 and stopping their biggest terror in transition, Russell Westbrook, who averaged 21.8 points on 55.2 percent shooting while turning the ball over just 1.5 times a game.
The team committed to getting back on defense and L.A. actually won the fastbreak points battle 12-7. Bryant committed to the assignment of stopping Westbrook and held him to just 15 points on 4-for-13 shooting while harassing him into eight turnovers.
"It was [just a matter of extra focus]," said Bryant, who Lakers coach Phil Jackson said would match up with Westbrook again in Game 6. "There were certain things that we did in our strategizing that made it sure we were able to do that."
Jackson said that all of the adjustments the Lakers made in Game 5 were aided by the home crowd at Staples Center.
"It was just raw energy, that's all there was to it," Jackson said.
Now the challenge becomes matching the energy that the sold-out Ford Center will provide for the Thunder in Game 6 with their team on the brink of elimination.
Even though Bryant questioned Monday, "Who said our backs are against the wall?" he admitted after Game 5 that his motivation to guard Westbrook was the thought of being eliminated by the young team without him giving it all he had by testing his bothersome right knee while chasing around the 21-year-old.
Jackson and Bynum both said Wednesday that it was a backs-against-the-wall mentality the lifted the Lakers' sense of urgency in Game 5.
Now Oklahoma City will truly have its back against the wall. If the Thunder lose, their season is over.
"They'll be ready to go on Friday," Bryant said. "The crowd's going to be excited, they're going to be ready to go and fly, jump over the basket and do what they do. That's just how they play."
Said Jackson: "You have to rebuild all that momentum. As you can see, home court holds a lot of sway in this series and we have to go in with a certain sense of mentality of an armor about us that we have the ability to withstand whatever rushes they make, whatever adjustments they make."
The Lakers' experience as defending champions having had to decipher the best way to beat Utah, Houston, Denver and Orlando over the course of four tightly-fought battles last postseason is what they draw on when they have an extra day between games to not only catch their breath, but also to figure out a way to take their opponents breath away.
"We're pretty good at catching a feel for teams and reading teams," Bryant said. "That's what the playoffs are about, you just continue to make adjustments until one team is adjustments-out. It's that simple."
The Lakers always have a Game 7 at home Sunday to fall back on should they not pull out the win on Friday, but Pau Gasol said that ending the series on the road is "a challenge that we need to accept."
"[On Tuesday] we really came out with that attitude and making them understand that it's not going to happen, that they're not going to have a chance to move on," Gasol said. "We need to do that in Game 6. Hopefully we'll close it out, but it's going to require a lot of work, a lot of toughness and a lot of concentration."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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