NBA: Lakers search for what’s missing
By Mike Bresnahan
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — Phil Jackson gave the Lakers a day off, mainly to rest and recover, but also probably to ponder whether they'll even get past the first week of May.
Their visit to Oklahoma City troubled them greatly, a two-game trek in which youth and inexperience clobbered age and championship wisdom.
It will be hard for them to look at game video, which they'll do when they meet Monday morning at their El Segundo training facility. They'll see the Thunder blowing by them again and again, scoring easy fastbreak layups, taking stress-free trips to the free-throw line and tying the best-of-seven series at two games each. Game 5 is Tuesday at Staples Center.
There was also the curious case of Kobe Bryant, who either ran out of time after continually feeding the big men early in Game 4 or simply didn't have enough in a telling chapter of his career where knee, ankle, finger and hamstring injuries have forced him to pick his spots more than ever.
Neither the Lakers nor the Thunder practiced Sunday, though the events of Game 4 and its postgame comments still carried the day.
Bryant said he was "managing the game exactly how I wanted to" but was chagrined when it got away from the Lakers, denying him the chance to "do what I normally do at the end of the game and close games out."
Jackson endorsed Bryant's decision while Derek Fisher, who knows Bryant more than any other player on the team, if not the league, said he was "somewhat" certain of what Bryant was doing on the court. Bryant did not take a shot until 9:06 remained in the second quarter and finished with 12 points on five-for-10 shooting.
"It's a tough balance for him," Fisher said. "I think the other night (in Game 3) he took some shots that he probably wouldn't want to take every night. So he came out (in Game 4) and wanted to make sure everybody was involved. Obviously we'd love to have him get some points and score for us in that first period, but I don't know if that's the determining factor to why we got off to such a slow start. We just weren't sharp."
Said Jackson: "It was all right. If we make our foul shots, we're OK in that ballgame. We're down maybe five points or seven points. We didn't make some free throws, like professional players should do."
Ah, yes. The free throws.
The Lakers at one point had made three of 12 from the line, one of many reasons they trailed by 16 in the second quarter.
Their first possession of the game was as symbolic as anything, Pau Gasol missing two free-throw attempts. Not exactly the stuff of champions.
Bryant isn't even driving enough to warrant the time Thunder forward Kevin Durant spends at the line. Bryant had two free-throw attempts in Game 4 after not getting there at all in Game 3. Over the same two games, Durant made 21 of 24 from the line.
Not that the Lakers are complaining.
"They were aggressive," forward Ron Artest said. "No excuses. I hope nobody blamed the refs. Nobody did, right? They did well. We've got to play basketball."
The Lakers also continued to have major issues from three-point range, making only four of 22 (18.2 percent) in Game 4. Artest missed all four of his long-distance tries, not that it's a surprise any longer for a player who is shooting 13% this series from behind the arc.
What was surprising, however, was his reaction when asked about it after the game.
"My three-point touch? Oh, I don't worry about that. It's there. I like it," he said. "I missed three lay-ups. I'm more concerned about that."
And here's the really bad news for the Lakers.
Durant said he felt "even more comfortable" in Game 4 after "figuring out how physical playoff basketball is."
Durant is confident. Russell Westbrook obviously is too. Is anybody on the Thunder not secure?
"I know people were saying we were going to be swept," said Durant, averaging 26.8 points this series. "We knew what we were capable of."
It leaves Game 5 as the next proving ground, perhaps the last stand for the defending champions.
"It's going to be such a critical game," Gasol said. "We need to regain ourselves."
Reserve center DJ Mbenga had another laser surgery Sunday to repair two more retinal holes in his left eye, which is not uncommon after having the procedure. Mbenga, who also had the retinal-hole procedure last week, will not play in Game 5.