- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
- 0 Shares
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- A sense of urgency has been conspicuously absent for the Los Angeles Lakers this season, but now with their first-round series knotted 2-2 with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team realizes that it's now or never if it intends to become repeat champs.
"It's a must-win for us," Pau Gasol said after Monday's practice about Game 5 on Tuesday night in Los Angeles. "They can afford to lose the game and then go back to Oklahoma and try to do their thing again and force that Game 7 ... We can't afford to lose this game.
"It's really a game where we want to establish ourselves and send a message to them that they might be playing well, they're played really well at home, they got two games, but that's all they're going to get ... We got to play harder, we got to play smarter than them and make sure we make a statement in that Game 5 and make them understand that there's no chance, there's no light."
Andrew Bynum echoed his frontcourt mate.
"Of course it's a must-win," Bynum said. "We have to go out there and win. There's nothing else really to that."
Everything that could go wrong in Game 4 for the Lakers seemingly did, as the Thunder outscored them 24-2 in fastbreak points, out rebounded them by seven, made 14 more free throws (42) than the Lakers even attempted (28) and led by as many as 29 in the second half en route to a 21-point win.
"We have to let that one go down the drain and flush it down the toilet and let it go," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said about Game 4. "You don't have to bring it back up again and analyze it."
One didn't need complex analysis to find that the issue on the minds of every Lakers player Monday was getting back on defense after missed shots to prevent the Thunder from running down the court with a man advantage. The Thunder is averaging 18 transition points per game in the series.
"It's getting back," Bynum said. "Make them beat us. Last [game] we beat ourselves."
Jackson emphasized that the Lakers shoddy execution on offense, settling on long jump shots and turning the ball over, was the main reason for L.A.'s struggling with getting back to limit Oklahoma City's transition opportunities.
"Sound offense provides rebounding and defensive balance," Jackson said. "In the situation where it's not sound and you're not playing high-percentage basketball, you might get caught in a mismatch situation like that."
Even though the No. 8-seeded Thunder are nipping at Los Angeles' heels, the Lakers' No. 1 seed still affords them home-court advantage for what now comes down to a best-of-three to determine who will advance to the second round to play either Utah or Denver (the Jazz lead the Nuggets 3-1).
"Who said our backs are against the wall?," Kobe Bryant asked. "It's a 2-2 series, what is going on around here?"
One thing that is going on is injuries creeping up on the Lakers once again, as they have all season long. Los Angeles only had eight of their 13 players practice Monday, according to Jackson. Bryant took the day off to rest his bothersome right knee, sore left ankle and right index finger. According to a team spokesman, the fracture at the tip of Bryant's finger has healed, but arthritis is affecting one of his knuckles, undoubtedly from Bryant overcompensating while suffering from the fracture.
The Lakers coaching staff got together Sunday to go over game tape, but the players had the day off. Bryant said the rest is helping him recover.
"I feel good right now," Bryant said. "I've obviously had some injuries, but I feel pretty good today."
Jackson shared the positive outlook.
"We're getting back," Jackson said. "We're going to get this thing turned around [in Game 5].
"It's about putting this team in a place where they can accomplish what they've set out to get and how to get and how to do that. It's not about worry, it's about who can do the job at the right time here for us."
Lakers point guard and co-captain Derek Fisher said the team has been conditioned for a tough playoff run ever since training camp.
"At the start of every season we receive a season planner that has the schedule, calendar and different principles of our offense and defense and all kinds of different information in there," Fisher said. "The cover is always different and this year at the top of the book to start the season before you even play a game, it says 'It's harder to do twice.' That sums it up in a nutshell."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
Team focuses on defense in preparation for Tuesday's Game 5.