Their playoff run might be imploding before it begins, but the Lakers don’t think so.
“The ailing patient is starting to recover,” Coach Phil Jackson said Monday, smiling as always, figuring the Lakers played pretty well against Oklahoma City until almost the end.
Five consecutive losses? Sure. Three in a row at home? Fine. An indigestible final three minutes Sunday against the Thunder. Whatever.
“Everybody wants to put the nail in the coffin,” Kobe Bryant said. “We’ve all been there before.”
Yes and no.
The Lakers were 3-6 down the stretch in the regular season a year ago and that turned out fine for them. But there’s never been a championship ending for a Lakers team with a five-game losing streak. Never.
Their latest hiccup was surrendering 120 points to Oklahoma City. They haven’t shown desire for an entire game since losing to Denver on April 3.
They’re so banged up and their roster is so chock full of years that they couldn’t even conduct practice the day before playing San Antonio on Tuesday.
“I would love to do it,” Jackson said. “We’re not physically capable of doing it.”
The recently repaired right knee of Matt Barnes is acting up, keeping him sidelined Monday. Pau Gasol and Bryant needed to rest, Jackson said. Steve Blake had a fever. And as Jackson said, “Fish [Derek Fisher] definitely doesn’t need to go out there and run around the [practice] court at his age.”
It leaves the Lakers . . . where, exactly?
Whenever Jackson mentions the Chicago Bulls, it rarely hits home with Lakers fans unless it’s a direct comparison of Bryant and Michael Jordan. But some solace was offered by Jackson when he talked about the 1991-92 Bulls, recalling they suffered a “couple devastating losses” in March and April.
“I was concerned. The players said it’s just the end of the season and we’ll get it back when we get into the playoffs . . . and we did. We got it back.”
The Bulls ended up beating Portland in the NBA Finals.
Seemingly everybody on the Lakers is blaming fatigue and foresight, their 17-1 run somehow only a distant recollection because of their ominous slide since then.
“There’s some subliminal part of them that just is still giving in to ‘We’re going to have to save it for the best, which is later on, and go from there,’” Jackson said. “At their age, it’s understandable.”
Which brings up San Antonio, perhaps a friend of the Lakers?
The big, bad Spurs come to town Tuesday, only they might not bring all their six-shooters.
They have the luxury of playing their starters fewer minutes than usual, having wrapped up the Western Conference last week, and though they’re still battling Chicago for best overall record, they’ve been hinting they might not go full-bore until the playoffs begin this weekend.
Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan each played fewer than 30 minutes in the Spurs’ 111-102 victory Saturday over Utah.
The Lakers could use a break, even if it comes courtesy of a rival.
In the bigger picture, they insist there’s no fear of the future. They don’t even like comparing what they’re going through now to their late regular-season swoon of a year ago.
“Last year we didn’t know what the hell was going on,” Bryant said. “We had a lot of injuries. My knee needed to be operated on. A lot of question marks.
“Here we really don’t have any question marks. These are execution things, these are correctable things. From that standpoint, we all feel comfortable about it. You don’t even see anybody here feeling like it’s doom and gloom because these are problems that can be corrected and will be corrected.”
Bryant’s technical foul from Sunday’s game was rescinded Monday by the NBA, perhaps the only palatable news for the Lakers from that loss. He is back down to 14 technicals, two away from an automatic one-game suspension.
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Folding up in the fourth
The Lakers have lost their last three home games after being tied or holding the lead entering the fourth quarter:
April 3 vs. Denver
After three quarters: 69-69
Final: 95-90 Nuggets
April 5 vs. Utah
After three quarters: 57-57
Final: 86-85 Jazz
April 10 vs. Oklahoma City
After three quarters: 90-88 Lakers
Final: 120-106 Thunder