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Thunder has the Lakers beat on the court and in the stands

From Oklahoma City

The fans here are better -- louder, in their seats for warmups, not so worried about being cool, so therefore willing to pull on a T-shirt and look like everyone else in the place.

Their basketball team is more athletic, if you don’t count their centers, younger, faster and right now better than what the Lakers are throwing against them.

They shoot free throws better, 19 for 19 until Adam Morrison enters the game, the Thunder so unsettled that Kevin Durant immediately misses one. That makes Morrison MVP in Game 4 for the Lakers.

Their bench is more effective than the Lakers’, and their players don’t seem to whine as much.

More than anything, they look as if they know what they’re doing, the Lakers disorganized and inconsistent, and for the second time here in less than a month the Lakers are blown out.

On top of all that, you now have Kobe the facilitator to start Game 4, not taking his first shot of the evening until there’s a little more than nine minutes remaining in the second quarter.

What’s with that? He still tired from going two for 10 in the fourth quarter in Game 3?

Or was this one of his patented snits after being criticized by folks for shooting too much -- showing everyone what it’s like when he doesn’t shoot.

Before the game Phil Jackson said he and Kobe had reviewed the videotape of Game 3’s fourth quarter. Jackson said “three or four of those shots had been dumped on him” because Kobe’s teammates weren’t in position to help.

But he said two or three of those were “hero shots,” shots that should never have been taken, while noting Kobe had driven to the basket with intensity only once.

In conclusion, he said, the Lakers need to “try and get more attack out of Kobe.”

So what happens? Kobe starts the game like he’s under orders not to shoot. He doesn’t attack.

He takes six shots in the first half, four in the third quarter and then the game is really over, the Lakers trailing by 22. And that’s no typo. The subs went on to finish, while Bryant went to the locker room, ESPN reported, with his massage therapist.

As crazy as it reads, the defending world champions are in serious trouble against the No. 8-seeded team with the series tied, 2-2, and the Lakers headed home.

HOW BAD are the Lakers? They are struggling to beat a team that plays with only four starters. If there is a worse player than center Nenad Krstic, he has to be playing for the Clippers.

IN THE next day or two, Jackson will probably get fined again for recent remarks, Clint Eastwood, a.k.a. NBA Commissioner David Stern, forced to lower the boom because the other night he invited someone to challenge him. And Jackson did.

That’s really not fair, because as smart as Stern thinks he is, he knows only too well Jackson has been a rebel almost his whole life, the son of preachers, Mr. Anti-Establishment butting heads with authority every chance he gets, and who is more authoritative than Stern?

When Stern stuck out his chest the other night and said something like “make my day,” there was no doubt Jackson was going to come back and stick his finger right in the middle of it. He can’t help himself.

“From time to time Phil does struggle with that,” admitted Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak, but as Kupchak would repeat over and over again, “I trust Phil’s judgment.”

I wondered, though, whether it was Kupchak’s job to save Jackson from himself, “a fine one thing,” as Kupchak said, “a suspension another.”

Kupchak did talk to Jackson and several times, but he said, “Phil knows he’s the leader of this team and I trust he knows when to push the envelope and when not to.

“I never feel with a coach of this stature and experience that I have to sit down and read him the riot act. He’s aware of the tightrope he’s walking, but he’s not going to knowingly miscalculate and put this team in the position where he’s not going to be able to lead it.”

In Stern and Jackson you have two NBA heavyweights not likely to back down. “Absolutely,” agreed Kupchak.

“But I trust both of their judgments. They both enjoy a good debate as much as anybody, but in the end both will always do what is in the best interests of the game.”

KUPCHAK SAID he knows Kobe has commitments internationally, but he would like him to take this summer off.

“He needs to think differently,” he said about Bryant’s summer plans.

On a bright note his summer might start sooner than expected.

BY THE way, at most every news conference, Thunder Coach Scott Brooks keeps talking about playing the best team and the best player.

He’s already got Cleveland and LeBron on his mind?

t.j.simers@latimes.com


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