Not much they can do but wait

Times Staff Writer

Day 3 of the odyssey of an NBA playoff team with no NBA playoff team to play . . .

The Lakers are still short an opponent, still uncertain on the date of their next game.

So they used another day to practice Thursday and sharpen their own edges, and again turn over their previous series against the Denver Nuggets and theorize on their next opponent -- be it the Utah Jazz or the Houston Rockets.

"It's really difficult," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said of keeping his team focused. "You've got to give an incentive and have them play a quarter or have an end-game type situation so it's kind of competitive and they can kind of get into it a little bit."

On the reflection of their four-game sweep over the Nuggets and Luke Walton's pivotal role, Jackson said Walton's shooting improvement lies in extra practice.

Although Kobe Bryant had another theory on Walton, who shot a league-playoff best 71% (22 for 31) from the field in the series:

"It's a matter of confidence for him, sometimes he'll get down on himself and be a little too hard on himself," Bryant said. "More than he should be. There's been some times this year after a game, after a tough loss, where he went maybe one for six or 0 for 6 and I tell him, 'Look, Luke, I went five for 30. Shake it off.' "


All eyes will be glued to the television tonight. Utah or Houston?

The teams play Game 6 in Salt Lake City with the Jazz leading the series, 3-2, although Utah was blown out by Houston in Game 5. Only 19 teams have won a seven-game series originally down 2-0, a challenge the Rockets faced.

Jackson said he and his coaches are familiar enough with each team to deliver a scouting report promptly. The problem may lie in conveying the emphasis to his team quickly enough.

"We're pretty familiar with both these teams as a coaching staff," said Jackson, who pondered having only one day to prepare. "If we can get that message across in a one-day basis, that'd be really good. But a seven-game series, it usually takes a couple games for teams to get into each other's habits and sets."

Jackson added that his staff will key in on how Utah and Houston defend each other, which may be an indicator on what may and may not work for his Lakers.


Magic Johnson, who owns almost 5% of the Lakers and knows a thing or two about the playoffs, said a Lakers-Utah series would be more difficult than imagined if it happened.

"It's going to be a tough matchup," he said recently on TNT. "Utah executes better than anyone, you've got to play defense for 24 seconds and then they have two of the best players in basketball when you think about Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer. So the Lakers are going to have to concentrate on the defensive end, and they match up pretty good."

Overall, Johnson liked the way the Lakers looked in sweeping Denver.

"You're happy the way the Lakers are playing," he said. "The bench is into it, high-fiving. Kobe's leadership this year has been off the charts and we saw that leadership come again in the fourth quarter" of Game 4 against Denver.


Staples Center isn't the only place Bryant receives chants of "MVP."

On his website, Lamar Odom recently told a story of the team going to Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar shortly before their series with the Nuggets began.

When the bill came, Bryant collected the tab. "As soon as he picked up the bill, we all started chanting, 'MVP, MVP, MVP!' " Odom said.


Times staff writer Mike Bresnahan contributed to this report.


Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World