Reporting from Oklahoma City — The noise will be there for sure, an indoor three-hour cacophony of equal parts jet engine, rock concert and, of course, thunder.
If the Lakers end their first-round series Friday against Oklahoma City, they will have not only beaten a corps of 24-and-under newbies who might feel the pressure on them for the first time this series. They will have also cracked what has quietly become the loudest crowd in the NBA.
It's a source of pride for fans of the 2-year-old team who strain to be heard over one another and stand for entire quarters as the Thunder tries to become only the fourth No. 8-seeded team to upset a top-seeded team.
The Lakers hope to turn a 3-2 series lead into another trip to the Western Conference semifinals against Utah or Denver, but first things first: Pound the ball down low, limit fastbreak points and block out the din Friday night.
"Their crowd's going to be excited," said Kobe Bryant, who noticed the obvious impact the noise had on Thunder players. "They're going to fly, jump over the basket and do what they do."
Hours before Games 3 and 4 at Ford Center, Thunder fans gathered outside the arena for a celebration akin to a college football tailgating party. The games themselves transitioned to raucous college basketball environments.
"All that's missing is the school band," TNT analyst Kenny Smith said. "Everyone around the league talks about it for these playoffs. They all come in unison with the same colored T-shirts. For an NBA crowd, it's unique."
It's not quite up there with the Sacramento crowds in the early 2000s, Smith said, when cowbells were employed while the Kings and Lakers fought their way through a number of memorable playoff games, but it's definitely loud enough for Lakers Coach Phil Jackson to call it "daunting noise," as kind a compliment he'll give an opponent's crowd.
The Lakers' last three games in Oklahoma City were a string of misadventures for them, starting with a 91-75 regular-season loss last month, continuing with a 101-96 defeat last week in Game 3 and concluding with a humiliating 110-89 loss in Game 4.
The common thread has been penetration by Russell Westbrook, which the Lakers hope to solve Friday via Bryant's defense, and easy fastbreak points fueled by Lakers turnovers and long rebounds off Lakers three-point misses.
Game 5, however, was the Lakers' best effort this month, a dominant 111-87 victory in which they even won the fastbreak category, a minor 12-7 edge that was actually a major gain.
Smith, for his part, thought Game 6 would be the one in which the Lakers ended the series.
"I just think at some point the Lakers' experience is going to take over," said Smith, who noted one other important fact. "They've won on the road before."
Jackson negotiating Benjamins?
Is Jackson in talks to extend his contract? He paused several seconds before answering the question.
"Nothing formal," he said. "I've received some feelers that have come from the backside."
Jackson, 64, is in the last season of a contract that pays him $12 million this season. He declined to say what the "backside" meant.
"I'm just having a ball coaching right now," he said. "That's all I can say. It's all about right now for me. I'm reserving my opinion for how I grade my job at the end of this playoffs."
Jackson's agent, Todd Musburger, had no comment other than to say, "We're enjoying the playoffs the same as he is."
Point of clarification
Derek Fisher rebutted recent reports that said the Lakers' guard got into an altercation last week at an Oklahoma City restaurant.
"These reports are false," Fisher said in a written statement. "To be clear, over a year ago, I was a witness to an altercation at a Waffle House in Oklahoma City after a regular-season game. The police were called after a fight broke out between two patrons. I reported what I had seen, was thanked by the police for my assistance and returned to my hotel. I was an innocent bystander and simply assisted police that evening. I will not be making any further comment on the matter."
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