For the Lakers, It's Search and Recovery After Collapse

Los Angeles Looks For Answers on The Offensive End

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson believes guard Kobe Bryant will have plenty of motivation heading into tomorrow's Game 5.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson believes guard Kobe Bryant will have plenty of motivation heading into tomorrow's Game 5. (By Mark Avery -- Associated Press)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 14, 2008; Page E04

LOS ANGELES, June 13 -- It no longer seems to be a matter of if but when the Los Angeles Lakers will lose to the Boston Celtics. It could happen Sunday in Game 5 or Tuesday in 6. It may even take seven games. But failure appears to be imminent.

None of the 28 teams that trailed 3-1 in the NBA Finals has ever come back to win. And if the Lakers are able to win Game 5, no team has won Games 6 and 7 on the road since the NBA moved to the 2-3-2 format in 1984.

But the Lakers have so much more than history to overcome, starting with themselves. They have Phil Jackson, regarded as the game's best coach, and Kobe Bryant, the league's most valuable player. But through four games, that has yielded just one jet-lag-assisted victory.

The Lakers still have to figure out how to consistently play the efficient offense that allowed them to steamroll through the Western Conference this postseason. They've done it for quarters, some halves, but never a full game. They also will have to recover from blowing a 24-point first-half lead -- and a 20-point lead with 18 minutes remaining -- in the 97-91 home loss in Game 4.

Jackson met with his team Friday morning, showed them some film of the loss, but sent them home without practice. His players needed time to rest and think about how to extend this series, he said.

"I just told them as a team, they had their heart ripped out. It's tough to recover from that, but they will. This thing is not over," Jackson said. "We have two days to work on things we need to work on. We have guys that are well conditioned at this time, and we need rest and recuperation in this situation, probably more psychologically than we do physically."

The frustration of a devastating, historic collapse bubbled over near the end of their loss on Thursday. After Sasha Vujacic provided no resistance to Ray Allen's game-clinching layup with 16 seconds remaining, a Lakers employee tried to console him and Vujacic angrily knocked the hand from his shoulder. Vujacic then buried his head in a towel.

And, as the final seconds ticked off the clock, Bryant didn't bother to stay on the floor as he walked toward the locker room while Vujacic's final shot hit the back of the rim. In the locker room afterward, forward Vladimir Radmanovic called it the "worst loss I've ever had in my career."

As he has all series, Bryant tried to mask his displeasure with humor, saying the Lakers had "wet the bed" and needed some wine, beer and a few shots to recover. "About 20 of them," he said, which would have been funnier if he hadn't actually needed 19 shots to score 17 points.

"We let a huge opportunity slip away, so I'm upset, hurt, disappointed," Bryant said. "It's a huge loss, no doubt about it."

This is the second consecutive time that the Lakers have reached the NBA Finals only to find themselves trailing 3-1 in the series. In 2004, they also were the favorites against the Detroit Pistons but lost in five games as the team dealt with several issues: The Shaquille O'Neal-Kobe Bryant era was closing, Jackson was a lame-duck coach, Karl Malone got hurt and Gary Payton appeared finished.

This time around, much of the drama surrounding the Lakers is absent. But the Celtics have consistently disrupted them on offense, stifling Bryant while often forcing most of the other Lakers to go into hiding in the fourth quarter. "If you've paid attention to them all year, usually the first half is team ball, second half is usually Kobe takes over the games," Celtics forward Kevin Garnett said.

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