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Lakers appear stuck in a game of guess-who

Whoever they are, they’re still here.

With their issues ongoing, the Lakers, your complex member of this spring’s NBA Final Four, showed their time isn’t at hand -- yet -- coming from eight points behind in the fourth quarter to win, 103-97, Saturday night, putting a major dent in Nuggetmania.

They’re still not the Lakers who struck fear in NBA hearts, but they’re not down, 2-1, in the Western Conference finals, either.

Of the four remaining teams, the Cavaliers have been the ebullient young favorite.

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The Magic has been the high-scoring dark horse, which came within one second of taking a 2-0 lead on the ebullient favorites in the Eastern Conference finals.

The Nuggets had been the team of destiny, at least until Saturday, on the franchise’s greatest run since entering the NBA in 1977.

As for the Lakers, we find out who they are every game, and, as yet, it isn’t the powerhouse we thought they were going into the playoffs.

You know that TNT slogan, “40 Games in 40 Nights?” With the Lakers, it would be “40 Personalities in 40 Nights.”

“Kind of a ragged game,” Coach Phil Jackson said of Saturday night’s.

Of course, he has kind of a ragged team.

The Lakers now are like a heavyweight fighter, who has had his world rocked, is on the ropes, and is just trying to make it to the bell.

Now they go out and battle -- well, most games -- trying to stay alive, with every series they survive giving them another chance to put it back together. Unfortunately, that inside game they’re looking for stayed lost Saturday, with Chris Andersen punctuating the point by coming off the bench to score 15 points on sheer hustle.

Andrew Bynum played his usual 21 minutes and scored his usual seven points, still in his funk, or deeper in it than ever.

As for team unity, Jordan Farmar yelled at Bynum once on the floor. The Lakers barely ran an offense in the second half, putting Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol in isolations, instead, with their teammates getting out of their way.

As Bryant, who took enough of a pounding to shoot 17 free throws, and was out on his feet at the end, said of the plays they ran for Gasol: “I just wait on the baseline and rest.”

If the Lakers’ will is still formidable, they were still teetering there waiting to be knocked out, but the Nuggets couldn’t do it.

Coach George Karl didn’t like taking 27 three-pointers and making only five, but the Nuggets had the lead most of the way, and open look after open look.

J.R. Smith was two for 10 on threes, making him five for 19 in the series. If he were still en fuego, as he was in the first two rounds, when he made 24 threes in 10 games, the Nuggets would be up, 3-0.

“We missed a lot of, lot of shots, shots that we shoot,” said Chauncey Billups, two for seven from three-point range, himself.

“We didn’t take a lot of out-of-character shots. The shots we took are shots we usually shoot. We usually shoot ‘em a little more often in this building because at home sometimes you can take a few more chances than you do on the road because you’ve got the crowd to fuel you. But we just couldn’t knock them down.

“The [Lakers] did a good job of attacking and getting to the free-throw line. Every time we made a little small run, the whistle blew and they went to the free-throw line and that stopped our run.”

In case you missed it, the Nuggets are building up to a big league-wants-the-Lakers-in-the-Finals protest about the officiating.

With the Nuggets trying to be physical, and the referees calling touch fouls on everyone, as mandated by the league, the Lakers were in the bonus early in the third and fourth quarters. So Bryant, in particular, started taking it to the basket, shooting 14 of his 17 free throws in the second half.

Overall, the Lakers shot 28 free throws in the second half to the Nuggets’ 11.

As Karl put it, wryly: “We weren’t getting a good consistency with the whistle.”

Karl also noted, “Playoff series have different personalities. This one now says we have to win two in L.A. and also take care of the home court Monday and Game 6.”

Yes, he’s discouraged.

On behalf of the Lakers, thanks for the regression, Nuggets. At present, the Lakers need any help they can get from any quarter.

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mark.heisler@latimes.com


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