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MARK HEISLER / ON THE NBA

For Lakers, a lack of urgency that's all too familiar

The Lakers are maintaining their legendary cool even in the face of a five-game losing streak, but one thing is clear: Their margin for error is much smaller than it used to be.

April 10, 2011|Mark Heisler
  • Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook tries to steal the ball from Lakers center Andrew Bynum as he drives against Thunder center Kendrick Perkins on Sunday night at Staples Center.
Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook tries to steal the ball from Lakers… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

Assuming the sun came up Monday in Lakerdom and there's anyone out there reading this …

In the good news for the Lakers, they still have their health!

Oh and they're back in the race!

Unfortunately, it's the wrong race.

A week after trailing No. 1 San Antonio by one game in the loss column, Sunday's 120-106 loss to Oklahoma City dropped the Lakers to one game in the loss column ahead of the No. 4 Thunder.

Of course, maintain their legendary cool, even if the Lakers have lost five in a row, what's the problem?

They've already clinched a playoff berth!

What's losing home-court advantage in a series, or two, or three, or all of them?

Happily for them, nothing ever knocks Coach Phil Jackson off stride …

Well, nothing ever did before this when he opened his pregame news conference, announcing the problem was "a lack of urgency."

That's basketball talk for: "We didn't (yawn) try very hard."

Let's just say there aren't a lot of coaches of two-time defending champions who ever held a session like this.

Q: Do think your team kicked back after losing to Denver and falling off the Spurs' pace?

Jackson: "Yes."

Q: That being the case, do you think it's important to win tonight's game?

Jackson: "I do. I don't know if they're going to do it or not. Yes, I'm encouraging them, very much so."

Q: So you're telling them it's important?

Jackson, beaming: "Yes."

I'm not kidding. This actually took place with Jackson conducting it like David Letterman, having a good time throwing out zingers.

Of course, everywhere but Lakerdom, the Lakers still look like the Lakers … or they did when the night started.

"The Lakers are good," Oklahoma City Coach Scott Brooks said before the game.

"We don't look at them as a team that's lost four in a row and they're a bad team. … They're still the team to beat in this league."

Of course, there are nights when the Thunder's shots are dropping when it doesn't matter who it plays.

Sunday, when Oklahoma City shot 56% and made eight of 17 three-pointers, was one.

Whatever the Lakers do from here, one thing is clear:

This isn't the West they walked on, at least when they awoke, for three postseasons.

This was the No. 4 team in the conference, on the Lakers' floor, in a game it needed and threw itself into.

Whatever the Lakers' margin of error used to be, it's smaller … assuming they still have one.

Nevertheless, encouraged by their coach to resume play, they regained their sense of urgency, came from 12 points down and had the lead going into the last three minutes.

Unfortunately for the Lakers, things got a little rocky after that. The veteran team started throwing the ball all over the lot, including some in the direction of the basket recorded as shots, and were outscored by the precocious, inexperienced kids, 17-2.

On the panic meter on ESPN's "SportsCenter," this one will probably hit 11 on a 10-point scale.

Around here, we just call it "the regular season."

"Every year there are situations that make you feel like this might not be the year," said Derek Fisher, who has five rings and innumerable scares getting them.

"We won the first title and Shaq [O'Neal] dominated the regular season and we just seemed to be a team that weren't going to be beat.

"And then we had a five-game series in the first round against the Kings and our backs completely against the wall in the conference finals against the Blazers."

"That's why grown men cry when you finally win that championship, it's because you remember when you lost five games in a row and things looked really bad."

Of course, it's obvious what could go wrong now — everything that just did.

Anywhere else, they'd call them Looney Tunes. Here we just call this the greatest team that doesn't bring it every night, or, for short, the Lakers.

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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