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Lakers have lost their edge

They're giving up leads, not to mention their advantage over the Cavaliers.

March 19, 2009|Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner

Can the Lakers win the NBA championship if they don't have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs?

They might have to find out the hard way.

The Lakers are one game behind the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have enough home games ahead of them to leave the Lakers behind them.

The Lakers (53-14) have the tiebreaker by virtue of a two-game sweep of the Cavaliers (54-13) this season, but that means something only if there's a tie that needs breaking. And that might not happen, with the Cavaliers playing 10 of their last 15 games at Quicken Loans Arena, where they happen to be 30-1 this season. Of course, the Lakers are the "1."

Meanwhile, the Lakers and their lose-the-lead ways will embark on a season-high seven-game trip after tonight's game against Golden State.

A ton of road games for the Lakers, a ton of home games for the Cavaliers. This might not bode so well for the Lakers, who experienced the importance of home-court advantage in last season's NBA Finals, when they went 0-3 in Boston.

Can they really finish ahead of Cleveland?

"Oh, yeah, sure. We'll just win all our games and then we'll see what happens," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said facetiously Wednesday. "Who knows? Those are the things that make for an interesting season. But we're still going to go out to win ballgames and put the pressure there."

Lately, the only people the Lakers have put pressure on is themselves.

They've been getting large leads, fumbling them away, and either recovering in time to win or losing to a barely .500 team.

A 14-point lead that looked secure in the fourth quarter Tuesday against Philadelphia turned into a one-point loss after Andre Iguodala drilled a last-second three-pointer.

A 15-point, third-quarter cushion against Dallas on Sunday became a six-point deficit before the Lakers rallied for a 107-100 victory.

On the road in a tough environment in San Antonio last week, the Lakers put the Spurs in an 18-point hole. But the Spurs dug out of it and closed within two late in the game before the Lakers held on for a 102-95 victory.

If the Lakers want to stay close with Cleveland, they have a list of things to adjust, some of them attitudinal, some of them strategic.

Jackson continues to rail against the me-first play of the Lakers' reserves, who were soundly outscored by the 76ers' backups, 36-18, much to Jackson's chagrin.

"Our big thing is that during the earlier part of the year, I used to turn to the coaches on the bench and say, 'Thank God we have a bench team that wants to go out there and kick some butt,' because a lot of times we'd be playing even with teams, they'd go out and build a 10-point lead," Jackson said. "Now it's the inverted way -- we build a 10-point lead with our starters and now we're trying to hold our own with the bench."

Why is that?

"There's some players on this team -- I always like this word -- that are disgruntled," Jackson said. "We do have some 'disgruntledness' on our team and that's because their own personal game isn't going well. They've got to break out of that."

Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar have been in terrible scoring slumps, and Luke Walton continues to struggle with his shot.

The second unit has had some personnel shifts -- Lamar Odom moved to the starters more than six weeks ago when Andrew Bynum went down, and Trevor Ariza was promoted to starter in place of Walton last week -- but Jackson said the reserves still needed to "get that mentality back."

The rest of the team could use an improved mind-set too.

The Lakers' locker room was eerily quiet and practically empty when reporters were allowed into it after Tuesday's loss to Philadelphia.

Odom spoke briefly, saying the Lakers needed to "tie up some loose ends" by not allowing teams to stick around.

Kobe Bryant smiled dryly when reporters asked about their recent failure to hang on to large leads.

"I love you guys," he said. "Doom and gloom."

The Lakers did not practice Wednesday in part because Bryant had to make a court appearance in Santa Ana to report for jury duty. (He was excused after saying he was a good listener.)

Regardless, a handful of players stuck around for a half-court scrimmage after Jackson dismissed the team.

One of them was Ariza, who was criticized for not fouling Iguodala before the 76ers swingman could set up for the winning three-point shot. The Lakers had a foul to give at the time.

"That was my mistake," Ariza said. "That's the first time I was in that situation. All I can do is learn from it now. I guarantee you next time I get in a situation like that, the outcome will be different."

Ariza also had another guarantee -- that the Lakers would no longer take lesser opponents lightly.

"I think sometimes we kind of relax when we shouldn't," he said. "We take things for granted a little bit, but I guarantee you that won't happen again. We won't take anything for granted ever again."

--

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

broderick.turner@latimes.com

--

Lakers tonight

VS. GOLDEN STATE

Time: 7:30.

On the air: TV: TNT; Radio: 570, 1330.

Where: Staples Center.

Records: Lakers 53-14, Warriors 24-43.

Record vs. Warriors: 3-0.

Update: The Warriors defeated the Clippers on Tuesday despite playing without leading scorer Stephen Jackson, who was automatically suspended for one game after picking up his 16th technical foul this season Sunday against Phoenix. The Warriors have been playing without starting center Andris Biedrins, who has been sidelined by a sprained left ankle. The Warriors are 6-27 on the road.

-- Mike Bresnahan

--

Tonight's game

Lakers vs. Golden State

7:30, Staples Center, TNT

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