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Lakers expect big things in playoffs

After another wild (if shorter) regular season, Lakers begin postseason against smaller, quicker Nuggets on Sunday.

April 28, 2012|By Mike Bresnahan
  • Power forwards Chris Andersen of the Nuggets and Pau Gasol of the Lakers battle for possession of the ball during a game earlier this season at Staples Center.
Power forwards Chris Andersen of the Nuggets and Pau Gasol of the Lakers… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

Tear away all the bizarreness of the regular season, the rush to play 66 games and the craziness that came with it (three-point shots by Andrew Bynum, anyone?).

The Lakers no longer care. They're on to bigger things … they hope.

There's enough at stake to create at least a partial script. Kobe Bryant's relentless chase of a sixth championship ring. Coach Mike Brown's final grade for his first season with the Lakers. Bynum's chance to wipe away his embarrassing exit from last year's playoffs. And other assorted subplots.

The Lakers finally begin the playoffs Sunday against the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center.

"We need to go far," Bynum said. "L.A. expects us to do big things."

Certainly more than last season, their four-game flame-out in Dallas and Bynum's body slam of Jose Barea providing the final flickering images of Phil Jackson's tenure with the Lakers.

They're already in trouble again as they head into the postseason, Metta World Peace sitting out six more games because of the elbow he delivered to the side of James Harden's head.

Thanks to that, it'll be the Lakers' Big Three and whoever else shows up in the first round for them. Ramon Sessions? Devin Ebanks? Somebody — anybody — from the bench besides Matt Barnes?

Bryant has already changed personas and adopted his playoff mode, the one where his answers are shorter with reporters, along with an increase in scowls and, presumably, the bored looks from podiums during postgame news conferences.

He certainly didn't like being asked Saturday why he shot only 43% this season, the lowest since his second season.

"Old age," he said. "I'm just old."

Is he too old to win a championship?

"Of course." Pause. "Any other great questions?"

Then he disappeared into the underbelly of the Lakers' training facility.

If the Lakers were trying to regain their championship edge, now would be the time.

Bryant's definitely driven. Think he wants that sixth ring?

"That was the first thing he mentioned to me when we met," Brown said. "He's [said] it in the beginning, in the middle and lately. He wants that sixth ring. That's what he plays for. He plays for championships."

Brown hopes to become part of this championship thing. His Cleveland teams made it once to the NBA Finals in five seasons, but it was only a brief appearance. And unsuccessful.

He has seen the photographs of championship parades on the walls of the Lakers' facility. And the trophies on display in the office of team executive Jeanie Buss. And the banners at Staples Center.

"Definitely the first few weeks walking in this building when I first got the job, you feel that a lot," he said. "You feel those pictures a lot and you feel the banners and you feel the trophies. But I've been here so long I don't feel it as much now. Until you just reminded me."

The Lakers' game plan is pretty obvious against the smaller Nuggets, whose starters have an average age of only 23.6. And they're fast.

"Slow the game down. Go inside," Bynum said. "Make them play half court."

The Lakers got a boost Saturday when Barnes was cleared to play after sustaining a sprained right ankle last Sunday. He took a lot of shots after practice, his first on-court work in six days, and planned to play in Game 1.

Sessions also needs to be active in his first playoff series in a five-year NBA career. He'll be asked to guard rising point guard Ty Lawson.

All in all, it's been a quiet season for the Lakers. Maybe something interesting will happen in the playoffs because there has been only:

—Chris Paul gets traded to the Lakers. Commissioner David Stern steps in. Chris Paul gets traded to the Clippers.

—Lamar Odom gets sent to Dallas.

—Bryant sustains a torn ligament in his wrist before the season starts.

—Players start calling Brown "All Day Every Day" because of his long practices and video sessions. World Peace derisively calls him an "all stats" guy.

—Bryant responds to persistent Gasol trade rumors by publicly telling the front office to "one way or another, do something."

—General Manager Mitch Kupchak fires back in a statement by saying the front office will do what it wants, when it wants.

—Magic Johnson says Jim Buss, not Kupchak, is running the Lakers.

—Derek Fisher is traded. Sessions is acquired. Michael Beasley is almost acquired.

—Bryant is benched for four of the last six minutes against Memphis.

—Bynum is yanked after tossing up an ill-advised three-point shot against Golden State. He is later fined by the team.

—Bynum is ejected early in the fourth quarter of a close game for taunting Houston's bench.

—Jackson tells everyone to "relax" about Bynum's behavior.

—Bryant shoots three for 20 against Utah. Then he shoots three for 21 against New Orleans and says fatigue might have something to do with it.

—Bryant is sidelined for seven games because of a sore left shin.

—World Peace is suspended for seven games.

Other than that, it has been a run-of-the-mill regular season for the Lakers.

Believe them, they're ready for the playoffs.

"I feel like we're in a good place," Gasol said. "We've been through a lot this year as a group. I think we all look forward to it."

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