Lakers, Nuggets in Great Officiating Debate

Conspiracy talk is pooh-poohed by the Lakers, who hold a 3-2 edge in the series.

May 29, 2009|Lisa Dillman

So, what exactly does $50,000 buy these days?

"A Prius," said the green-minded Kobe Bryant, smiling.

One Denver player apparently thought it was enough to secure a playoff game. As in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals between the Lakers and Nuggets.

One quick thought: That's all?

Then again, the economy is hitting everyone hard these days.

Joking aside, one of the Nuggets, who did not want to be named, told Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla after their 103-94 loss in Game 5 to the Lakers: "The Lakers paid $50,000 to win that game. They got their money's worth."

On the eve of tonight's Game 6 in Denver, Bryant had no comment Thursday after practice on the conspiracy theory other than saying, "Is that a question? No, I didn't hear it."

Said Lakers Coach Phil Jackson: "It's unfortunate, but that's the way sometimes these series boil down to who's got home-court advantage and who thinks they're going to get the advantage from that end of the game.

"But we don't want to make any issue out of that. . . . It's not something we want to focus on or get them focused in that direction."

Said the Lakers' Derek Fisher: "Overall, I'm a conspiracy theorist . . . but nah."

Good, then no one had to go looking for a grassy knoll near Staples Center. The NBA had no comment on the Denver Post report when asked about it by The Times.

Funny how the Great Officiating Debate seized hold of an already entertaining showdown between two seemingly equally matched teams -- the Lakers hold a 3-2 advantage in the series -- and has fans of both teams riding a roller-coaster ride of emotion.

"It's not any different than any other time in postseason that I've been here," Fisher said. "It's just the way it is. I remember going into San Antonio over the years and every time we went to San Antonio, Shaq would get two fouls in the first two minutes. That was just a fact.

"When every call and everything is replayed 50 times and talked about 1,000 times, you're going to have those variations in the calls, the fouls. There are too many things that happen in a basketball game that even if you felt as though the game was officiated poorly or not in your favor, there are so many other things you can control."

Like an 11-0 Lakers run to open the fourth quarter in Game 5. Or the Nuggets' bumbling, fumbling and committing turnovers on four consecutive possessions.

Trends are all but impossible to track in the playoffs for the Lakers, let alone this series.

One day Andrew Bynum is back, the next game he disappears. Sasha Vujacic makes an important three to close the first half and then goes into deep freeze on the bench.

Lamar Odom takes center stage in Game 5 with 19 points and 14 rebounds off the bench. And then who knows what implications that will have, if any, for Game 6 in Denver.

"Lamar played good," Nuggets guard Chauncey Billups said Thursday. "You've got to tip your hat to him. But every game is different. Now he'll be a little more in the scouting report. I feel fine about the way we've controlled what he's doing."

The Lakers have been through too much to declare Game 5 the start of a new beginning. Houston, anyone?

"We thought that after Game 5, you know, the 40-point win," Fisher said. "That was it, 'The Lakers are here now. They're going to go to Houston in Game 6.' And that was the win we needed. That wasn't the case. [The Game 5 win over Denver] in a lot of ways has no bearing on what you do tomorrow."

Breaking serve on the road to reach the NBA Finals for the second straight year was never going to be a simple assignment, not even when the Lakers used to be consistent, all those weeks ago.

Denver is also 7-1 at home in the playoffs this spring.

"Home is always good, no matter the case, but especially when you're down 3-2," Billups said. "It's a difficult position to be in no matter what. But home is always just an added bonus, an extra bonus. You know you're facing elimination, so you've got to come out and do all you can."

Times staff writer Broderick Turner contributed to this report.


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