- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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PHOENIX -- The number on the white board in the Los Angeles Lakers' locker room, representing the countdown to the wins necessary to complete their road to a repeat, remained at six after Tuesday's 115-106 Game 4 loss to the Phoenix Suns -- but the only thing on the team's mind seemed to be Game 5 on Thursday.
"Critical game," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "We say they're all critical, but this is what playoffs are about. If you can support yourself on the home court, you have a chance of going back and pulling an upset or winning the game, No. 5, and creating the momentum change. So, we'll see what comes out on Thursday. Should be interesting."
For the second time this postseason, the Lakers jumped out to a 2-0 lead to start a series, only to lose Games 3 and 4 on the road. Against Oklahoma City in the first round, Los Angeles was able to take Game 5 at home and Game 6 on the road to close out the series before it went the distance.
Working in the favor of the Lakers, the No. 1-seeded team in the Western Conference, is their home-court advantage. The Lakers have yet to lose a game at Staples Center this postseason, going 7-0.
"Now we've got to go back home and make sure we have a really good intense game, where we set the tone from the first second and we play as hard as possible for 48 minutes," Pau Gasol said after racking up just 15 points and five rebounds Tuesday. Gasol averaged 25 points in Games 1 and 2 at home and just 19 points in Games 3 and 4 on the road.
"We've got to understand they're a team that's dangerous, as they proved," Gasol said. "I think people were overlooking them after the first two games and [were] just thinking ahead already. And so obviously, that's a big mistake."
Lakers take charge
The Zen Master has taken on a not-so Zen-like approach to motivate his players to sacrifice their bodies on defense and draw charges: pay them.
"We actually even put out a reward for drawing charges so there's rewards involved in it," Jackson said, with the money coming from a "minor fine pool" that filled up throughout the year that the Lakers use to "reimburse these guys for various things they do."
According to Elias Sports Bureau, in the first round of the playoffs, Oklahoma City drew 12 offensive fouls on Los Angeles, while the Lakers collected just 10 on the Thunder. L.A. improved in the second round, drawing 10 to Utah's nine. Through four games against Phoenix, the Lakers have fared much better, drawing eight charges compared to just two for the Suns.
Derek Fisher drew an offensive foul on Leandro Barbosa on Tuesday, racking up his 12th offensive foul taken in the 14 games the Lakers have played in the playoffs. The next-closest Lakers player is Pau Gasol, who has drawn just four.
"We've asked them to [do it]," Jackson said. "I think we have thin-chested big men is what we have. Not so much meat up in the chest so they shy away from it."
Bynum back, again?
Andrew Bynum, who Jackson considered benching for Game 4, bounced back from his two-point, two-rebound clunker in Game 3 to contribute 12 points, eight rebounds and a block while shooting 6-for-9 from the field in 25 minutes on Tuesday.
"I thought he played pretty well tonight," Jackson said. "I was heartened by his play tonight. I think he's going to play better as we go along."
One teammate down, one teammate, one coach, one idol to go
Bryant's 38 points gave him 4,785 in his postseason career and ticked him past Karl Malone (4,761) for the fourth-most points in NBA playoffs history. The three players who remain above him are Shaquille O'Neal (5,248), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (5,762) and Michael Jordan (5,987).
They said it
"It seemed like every time we went near them they fell down at some level in that game and they went to the line." -- Jackson on the free throw discrepancy (Phoenix was 22-for-32 from the line, Los Angeles 7-for-13)
This and that
With 38 points and 10 assists in Game 4, Bryant became just the third player in the last 20 postseasons to rack up 35-plus points and 10-plus assists in consecutive games. Kevin Johnson did it for Phoenix in the 1994 Western Conference semifinals and Michael Jordan accomplished it in the 1992 NBA Finals. Curiously, both Bryant and Johnson went 0-2 in those games, while Jordan and the Bulls were 1-1 ... The Suns are 6-7 all-time in best-of-seven series when tied 2-2. The Lakers are 23-8.
ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.
5dEthan Sherwood Strauss
6dMatt Walks, ESPN.com