Lakers teammates Pau Gasol, left, and Andrew Bynum walk off the court following… (Justin Edmonds / Getty Images )
We are a city on the brink.
Lakers basketball has, long ago, gone beyond casual entertainment to become community treasure.
The purple flags are embedded in our psyche. But will they be flying at half-mast Sunday morning? Are we on the verge of another Jack Kent Cooke, balloons-in-the-rafters embarrassment?
So much rides on Game 7 on Saturday night. With a loss, the couches in the doctors' offices all over Los Angeles will be in heavy use. Tell us, Jack Nicholson, how does this feel?
We are a city that assumed the Denver Nuggets would be dispatched in five, maybe six games. This was to be warmup stuff for the big guys. Playoff foreplay.
We have been programmed to think like that because our vision is dominated by D-Fish at .04 seconds and Robert Horry with an open jump shot. And we have Kobe, who is our Bubba Watson. Watson, who told us after the Masters that he had a chance if he had a swing. We assume we have a chance if Kobe has a shot.
The Nuggets have taken us to the edge of a nightmare.
Who knew that the opponent would be a team with not one but two point guards, each appearing to be part John Stockton and part Isiah Thomas? Who knew that from our own roots would come a Nuggets player so tall and long and skilled that when he dunks, it looks as if he is doing so on an eight-foot basket? JaVale McGee challenges Blake Griffin's right to the Most Incredible Dunks trophy. His mother is Pam McGee, who starred at USC with twin sister Paula and Cheryl Miller and also played with the Sparks.
Right now, we seem to be able to counter only with battle-scarred Kobe, brooding Bynum and missing-person Pau. Our Magic has gone to baseball. Are we next, starting Sunday?
Is it unthinkable, indigestible, to make the transition to Clippers love? Or will they shut us down soon too, ruining all the NBA parties we had planned for June?
What a fine kettle of fish.
Is it not both maddening and wonderful to watch the ever-present little grin on the face of Nuggets Coach George Karl? He has battled much more than the Lakers. His cancer scars are still there. We see them in shirt collars still a size too big for the neck that used to fill them. In Karl's big picture, this is not a big deal. He is still around, coaching, teaching, loving his family. Beating the Lakers is important. Breathing is non-negotiable.
This ultimate perspective has kept Karl loose. Teams are usually reflections of their coaches.
On the Lakers' radio broadcast during Thursday night's mile-high tail-whipping, commentator Mychal Thompson, an ex-Laker who is publicly bleeding purple during this nightmare, says it best: "The Nuggets are playing with house money."
Before he reaches that conclusion, Thompson babbles on about how this dreadful, embarrassing, gut-wrenching stinker of an effort by the Lakers might be a good thing because it extends the series and the team they will play next in the playoffs, the Oklahoma City Thunder, will be stale from waiting so long for the next round. Play-by-play man John Ireland, better walking the line between reporter and fan, saves Thompson from himself with the reality that the Lakers might not even make it to the next round.
Still, to Thompson's credit, when it comes to the Lakers he understands and lives the Los Angeles feeling of entitlement.
Friday, on sports-blab radio, they discuss what they will blab about Monday if the Lakers lose. They conclude that the subject will be the need for upcoming Lakers trades. A caller reminds them that there are other sports teams in the area worth discussion, such as the Dodgers, Angels, Clippers, USC, etc. The caller points out that the Kings are eight wins away from taking the Stanley Cup.
They blow him off. The Lakers are the only deal, the irrefutable wind beneath the wings of Los Angeles sports, they say.
And so, the minutes and hours will tick by, ever so slowly, until Saturday night's 7:30 tipoff. We will fill them with attempts to bolster our case, to ease our fear. There is home-court advantage, team history, Kobe Bryant. Maybe Magic will show up, even if it means missing a baseball game. Can we get Jerry West back on a one-game consulting contract?
Andrew Bynum told us these close-out games are easy. Maybe he is right, just premature in his speculation.
The real test will come when the Lakers win, as we still assume they will.
Then, it is important how we carry off our swagger, the kind of we-were-never-worried stride at which Lakers fans excel. A shrug and a roll of the eyes will help leave the impression that, in the end, the Nuggets were mostly a fly to be swatted away and we knew that all along.
If we do this right, we can pretend for hours, until we find a quiet, private place. There, we will change our shirt, wipe the sweat off our brow, get down on our knees and look skyward.