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Lakers know it's not done yet

Up 3-1 against Spurs, they aren't taking anything for granted going into tonight's game in L.A. against defending champions.

May 29, 2008|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

One more victory, and the Lakers turn the defending NBA champions into ex-NBA champions.

One more victory, and the Lakers can sit back, relax and treat one another to more team dinners as they await another opponent.

One more time and, well, if it does end up happening tonight at Staples Center, it probably won't come easily.

The Lakers have a 3-1 lead over the San Antonio Spurs, but there were few celebratory signs Wednesday at their practice facility. The reasons were many.

The Spurs are the Spurs, a veteran team that could easily be tied with the Lakers in this series, if not the ones ahead, 3-1. (A front-page headline in Wednesday's San Antonio Express-News suggested as much, screaming "NO FOUL?" with a photo of the instantly infamous Derek Fisher-Brent Barry non-call at the end of Game 4. Indeed, the league ruled later Wednesday that a two-shot foul should have been awarded to Barry because his path was impeded by Fisher.)

These Lakers are relatively new to this thing, having only a few players with legitimate deep-round playoff experience. (Said Sasha Vujacic: "It's crazy. Besides Kobe [Bryant] and Fish and Luke [Walton], we are like rookies for this kind of thing.")

And there's also that little thing from two years ago that might be tickling the backs of their minds.

Fortunately for the Lakers, only eight teams in NBA history have come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a best-of-seven series.

Unfortunately for the Lakers, they were the most recent team to cough up a 3-1 lead, falling to Phoenix in the first round of the 2006 playoffs, though the distinction between those Lakers and these Lakers is obvious.

"I think the difference between that team and this team is we were so happy and excited -- we just couldn't believe we were up 3-1 against Phoenix," Walton said. "Last time, we kind of just assumed we were up 3-1, we were going to win. This time around, we know we've got to go out and win that fourth game."

There are, though, plenty of factors weighing heavily on the Lakers' side.

The Spurs have never come back from a 3-1 deficit in their history, going 0-6 when trailing in such best-of-seven series.

More recently, the Lakers are 7-0 at home in the playoffs and have won 13 consecutive home games since a March 28 loss against Memphis.

The Lakers remain wary, however, hoping they feel a less anxiety-provoking emotion a few hours after tonight's tip-off.

"When you face a team that's in a must-win situation, they just play desperate ball," Bryant said. "San Antonio, they're the champs. That's going to be the toughest of all to close out."

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After further review, the league acknowledged Barry should have received two free throws near the end of Game 4.

Down, 93-91, the Spurs inbounded the ball from the side with 2.1 seconds to play. There was contact after Barry drew Fisher into the air with a pump fake above the three-point line, but the referees did not make a call.

Barry was not in the act of shooting, but he would have received two free throws because the Lakers would have been over the limit for fouls in the quarter.

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson acknowledged that Fisher bumped Barry on the play, though he noted that it should have had an asterisk next to it.

On the previous possession, a 17-foot shot by Fisher with 6.9 seconds left grazed the rim before hitting Spurs forward Robert Horry and falling out of bounds. The referees, however, said Fisher's shot was an air ball, leaving the Lakers with two seconds left on the shot clock. Bryant's hasty turnaround 16-footer was short, and the Spurs gained possession.

"That ball should have been ours with a new 24-second clock," Jackson said. "It should have been our ball with them having to foul us at the end of the game to get the ball back, rather than us having to take a tough shot."

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Bryant has only six free throws in four games against San Antonio, paltry numbers compared to the 96 free throws he shot in six games against Utah.

"That's one of the mysteries of the world," he said wryly Wednesday.

Jackson, who has referred to San Antonio forward Bruce Bowen as "Edward Scissorhands" in the past, took another hard look at Bowen's hands on defense against Bryant.

"Bowen's faster than the eye . . . he's really quick with his hands," Jackson said. "He gets in and bothers, but he's back out before the shots are up usually. You've got to give him credit. He's obviously an illusionist at some level."

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mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

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