Uh-oh. It's a Game 6 between the Lakers and Boston Celtics.
Lakers fans hate to go there based on recent history, but it's hard to avoid, seeing as how the teams have basically reverted to two years ago, when the Celtics' physically charged 131-92 victory ended the NBA Finals and was either the best or worst game of 2008, depending on perspective.
The Lakers returned home Monday afternoon, which might have been the best news for them on a designated travel day where no Lakers coaches or players spoke to the media.
One live morsel could be found on the Twitter account of Lakers executive Jeanie Buss: "Just picked Phil [Jackson] up at the airport. He is concerned but upbeat . . ."
It was a good summary of the words coming out of the locker room in the immediate aftermath of Game 5, where the Lakers were again outrebounded and again outscored in the paint in a 92-86 loss that put them down in the series, 3-2.
If they can't fix those areas Tuesday in Game 6, Staples Center might be a silent venue Thursday night, though the Lakers were resolute.
"We'll respond," forward Lamar Odom said. "Our energy is still up as a team. Our confidence is still there. The series is not over."
Is he sure?
"It's the third win for them," he said. "It's not like the trophy is theirs. They still have to win more and they have to do it on our home court."
Of course, Odom could do plenty more himself to back up his words; he's averaging a puny 7.6 points and 5.8 rebounds in a series in which the team with the rebounding edge has won every game.
Along those lines, Andrew Bynum's stat line from Game 5 showed one positive number for the Lakers, almost 32 minutes of playing time, but then a lot of zeroes — no made free throws, no blocked shots and, of greatest interest, no defensive rebounds. He had only six points and one offensive rebound.
Many eyes will also be on Pau Gasol, who had only 12 points and was stuck on nine until hitting a free throw with 2:25 to play.
He was one of many Lakers who weren't exactly hyperventilating after Game 5.
"We're in a good situation," he said. "As tough as it is losing these last two games [in Boston], we're going to fight for a championship at home. We're in a position that I think we would all be happy in being at the beginning of the season."
It'll be intriguing to see whether Kobe Bryant again takes over the Lakers' scoring on his own, a premise that was met with quietly open arms by the Celtics, who almost sensed the rest of the Lakers becoming spectators as Bryant scored 38 points on 13-for-27 shooting Sunday.
Bryant was unstoppable in the third quarter, scoring 19 points on seven-for-nine shooting, but the Lakers curiously lost ground, a six-point halftime deficit growing to 10 by the time he checked out with 1:49 left in the quarter.
The Celtics didn't seem bothered at all. Gasol was the only other Laker to score in double figures, and he was a distant second.
"From the standpoint that [Bryant]'s providing points for his team and he's in a rhythm, it's a bit dangerous," Celtics forward Kevin Garnett said. "But for the rhythm of his team, I think it works in our favor. I can't even come up with any words because his flow is just deliberate."
Garnett had another interesting observation.
"They usually run the triangle and it wasn't really typical for what they did tonight," he said.
Bryant, meanwhile, was very positive in the locker room after the game, even if he didn't show it in another interview session in which he stuck his chin on his left hand and avoided reporters' questions as if picking his way through rapidly eroding earth.
One query seemed to get him going, though, a question about the need for him to address teammates about their recent shoddy play.
The Lakers' point total in Game 5 was their lowest of the playoffs, and it came on the heels of an 89-point non-outburst in Game 4.
"Just man up and play," Bryant said. "What the hell is the big deal? I don't see it as a big deal. If I have to say something to them, then we don't deserve to be champions. We're down, 3-2, go home, win one game, go into the next one. Simple as that."
Simple enough. A season with championship-repeat aspirations hangs in the balance.
Times correspondent Mark Medina contributed to this report.
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