The Lakers have already made history. They actually have a chance to do it again.
Somewhere in the same sphere of improbability that goes with blowing a 24-point lead in an NBA Finals loss, the Lakers will try to win the Finals after trailing, three games to one.
It has never been done since the Finals debuted in 1947, which speaks to the magnitude of their task, in case it wasn’t already clear.
They managed to practice Saturday, one more step than they could take when they all gloomily assembled Friday, though it remained to be seen how they would look in Game 5 tonight against Boston at Staples Center.
They spoke positively, insisting the shock of Game 4 and the stagnation a day later had dried up and blown away. The final score tonight will be the best judge.
“I borrowed Phil [Jackson]'s peace pipe. We had a big ‘Kumbaya’ meeting,” Kobe Bryant said jokingly. “No, everybody’s fine. Everybody is in the same mood that I am. Everybody’s ready to go. We’re excited about the opportunity.”
“If we start the season in training camp and you come to me and say, ‘We’re going to give you three cracks to win the championship,’ I’m going to take that,” Bryant said. “So I’m excited about this. Look at it as college basketball. It’s March Madness. It’s the Elite Eight now.”
Carrying the metaphor further, the Final Four would be held in Boston even if the Lakers won tonight, but they’re looking at things one bracket at a time.
They are saying privately that the Celtics’ injuries might give them a crack at extending the series to Boston.
Two starters -- center Kendrick Perkins and point guard Rajon Rondo -- could not finish Game 4, leading Celtics Coach Doc Rivers to grimly say Saturday that, “We’re not in great physical shape, there’s no doubt about that.”
Perkins left early in the third quarter of Game 4 because of a strained left shoulder after colliding with Lamar Odom. He has a 50% chance of playing tonight, “at best,” Rivers said.
Rondo had 16 assists in Game 2 but hasn’t been the same since suffering a bone bruise in his left ankle in Game 3. He is expected to play tonight, though backup guard Eddie House should stand by for more extended playing time.
It almost goes without saying that the Celtics did just fine without Perkins and Rondo playing major roles in their Game 4 comeback, the biggest in the Finals since Elias Sports Bureau became the league’s official stat-keeper in 1970-71.
The media weren’t giving the Lakers much of a chance after Saturday’s practice.
Derek Fisher was asked so many big-picture questions about the Lakers’ future that he started laughing.
“Wow. Sounds like everybody is getting their ‘what happens when we lose’ stories together, huh?” Fisher said.
If the Lakers play Game 5 the way they did the second half of Game 4, reporters can start writing those stories now.
Odom disappeared after a strong first half. Bryant made only six of 19 shots and finished with 17 points, his fewest in the playoffs. Sasha Vujacic plummeted from 20 points in Game 3 to three points in Game 4.
Small wonder that the Lakers scattered quickly after Jackson canceled practice Friday morning, each coping with the loss in their own way.
Bryant, for his part, went home and read several chapters of a Harry Potter book to his daughters.
“He had more problems dealing with Voldemort than what we have dealing with the media and the Celtics,” Bryant said.
A victory tonight keeps open the other window of history the Lakers can claim if they somehow win the series. It certainly won’t be easy.
“We haven’t said those words,” Jackson said. “But we’ve said we have to do it the hard way.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Boston leads best-of-seven series, 3-1 (2-3-2 format)
All games 6 p.m Pacific, Ch. 7
LAKERS VS. BOSTON
Game 1: at Boston 98, Lakers 88
Game 2: at Boston 108, Lakers 102
Game 3: at Lakers 87, Boston 81
Game 4: Boston 97, at Lakers 91
Game 5: Today at Staples Center
Game 6: Tuesday at Boston*
Game 7: Thursday at Boston*
* if necessary