Lakers welcome short respite
LOS ANGELES -- In nearly seven months since training camp opened on Sept. 30, the Lakers have packed in eight exhibition games, 82 regular-season games and another four playoff games. So getting two days off prior to Tuesday's 111-87 victory over the Thunder in Game 5 provided some welcome rest.
The extra day made all the difference.
"It's a big deal for us to have a couple days off," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesRon Artest of the Lakers bumps fists with Jack Nicholson in the third quarter of the Lakers-Thunder Game 5.
Before the game, Jackson said he told his team that its activity level in Games 2-4, wasn't at the level it was for Game 1, when the Lakers had three days without a game between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs.
Jackson said his message was as follows: "Maybe it's just the rest that you guys need, and these four games in seven days were a little bit too much for our system."
The time off seemed to benefit Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant the most. Bynum, who is in just his fifth game back in the lineup after missing 13 games at the end of the regular season with a strained left Achilles tendon, was active from the very start, starting the game 4-for-4 with three rebounds and two blocks in the first quarter and finishing with 21 points on 8-for-10 shooting in 28 high-impact minutes.
"They fed off Bynum," Thunder star Kevin Durant said. "He had some easy points here and there and that got the whole team excited."
As much as the Lakers were excited from their early 10-0 lead, their legs were even livelier.
Bryant, who had only limited participation in Tuesday's shootaround and sat out Monday's practice to rest his bothersome right knee, was making sharp cuts, running full speed up and down the floor and getting better lift on his jump shot, finishing with 13 points on 4-for-9 shooting plus seven assists, three rebounds and two steals.
The energy manifested itself in Bryant's guarding the Thunder's quickest and most athletic player, point guard Russell Westbrook. Bryant harassed Westbrook into 4-for-13 shooting and eight turnovers.
"I enjoy the challenge; I think he's been playing sensational," Bryant said. "If we're going to be eliminated, I didn't want to go into the summer thinking I could have done something about it."
The Lakers get two non-game days again before playing in Oklahoma City for Game 6 on Friday.
A top priority for the Lakers between now and then will be to save their energy.
"We just got to get rest, get ready and see if we can't have a better showing in Oklahoma than the last time," Bryant said.
Luke Walton might not be getting the playing time he hoped for in this series, with Ron Artest playing major minutes at small forward to guard Durant, but Walton made an important play when the Lakers started the second quarter with four bench players on the court along with Andrew Bynum.
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Before the game, Jackson spoke about the importance of the Lakers' drawing charges the way the Thunder, Utah Jazz and Orlando Magic have in this year's playoffs to discourage teams from attacking the paint.
"The last game we had a lot of opportunities to take charges," Jackson said. "We did not turn around and take charges. Those are situations you have to do in the playoffs. You're seeing that happening all over the NBA in these playoffs and we're one of the teams that's not doing a good job at it."
Walton played just five minutes but was able to cause a turnover by taking the charge, and the Lakers' second unit was able to open up the second quarter by sustaining the momentum the team built in the first quarter.
"Minutes have been really limited, so my mindset was, 'Do whatever you can to help out,'" Walton said. "We have been talking about that because they take eight or nine of them a game. Phil's been on us to take them.
"I think because we're so tall and long that we're used to just walling off and letting big guys block shots as opposed to taking the charges. ... Charges, they're a big part of the game."
Phil just fine
Jackson and NBA commissioner David Stern had a verbal sparring match in Oklahoma City, with Stern calling Jackson's comments about the league's referees "corrosive" and threatening suspension rather than just a fine if the coach made similar remarks again. Jackson shot back and called Stern's stance "heavy-handed" and said the Thunder's raucous home crowd could have swayed the officials into calling more fouls in Oklahoma City's favor in Game 3.
Jackson had already received two separate $35,000 fines in the month of April, and his response to Stern seemed like it would warrant some punishment from the league, but Jackson got off free this time.
How did he avoid a fine this time?
"I won't address that question at all," Jackson said. "I'll stick that one right under the podium. I'm tempering my irresponsible tongue."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.