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Dave McMenamin

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Effort makes all the difference for Lakers in Playoffs

By Dave McMenamin, NBA.com
Posted May 13 2009 6:42AM

LOS ANGELES -- There were no elbows thrown, no technicals assessed, no injuries sustained, no heads slapped, no mommas dissed, no intentional fouls missed, no flagrants flung, no players tossed and no curse words cussed.

No, the Lakers' 118-78 win on the Rockets in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals on Tuesday finally, thankfully came down to just basketball.

And when it comes down to it, Los Angeles has no peer when it plays the way it's capable of.

Not Cleveland. Not Denver. Not Boston. Not Orlando. The only thing that stands between the Lakers and earning banner No. 15 are the Lakers. Phil Jackson even admitted as much on Monday, calling his squad a "Jekyll and Hyde" type of team.

"When you have bad nights, you have bad days, you have bad games, I think part of being successful in this league is being able to accept those things for what they were and then start it up again the next time," Derek Fisher said. "That's what makes the great ones great -- an ability to push away what has happened in the past and put out their best effort the next time."

And so the Lakers used a sinking effort by their Hyde side yet again to seesaw Jekyll back into the winner's circle.

When watching the Lakers, you can tell almost immediately whether Hyde or Jekyll has shown up. In L.A.'s 10 games this postseason, the team that has led after the first quarter has gone on to win in nine of those games.

On Tuesday, the Lakers led 35-24 after one and used a 31-6 run over the end of the first and beginning of the second quarter to grow its cushion to 19 points.

"We set the tone earlier," Pau Gasol said after his 16 points and 13 rebounds helped L.A. control the glass for the first time in the series since Game 2. "We just got a higher level of intensity today."

"We started off the game with a lot of energy," Lamar Odom said after chipping 10 points and six rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench. Andrew Bynum started in his place and had his finest game of the Playoffs with 14 points and six rebounds. Odom said he received a shot to alleviate the pain in his lower back shortly before tip-off that didn't kick in until the second quarter.

Intensity or energy aside, the Lakers' performance simply came down to effort. The Lakers gave themselves a chance to show how good they can be by just simply trying harder. Even the most powerful European sports car will be outpaced by a jalopy if it doesn't have any fuel at the start of the race.

Kobe Bryant said "we just made our adjustments" to explain how the Lakers held Houston to just 29-for-89 shooting (32.6 percent) on Tuesday after allowing them to shoot 45 percent and make 10 threes on Sunday. Once again, though, the difference between a blown defensive assignment and a properly executed one is more about attitude than aptitude.

Houston's Aaron Brooks and Shane Battier, who combined for 57 points in Game 4, had just 19 points in Game 5. That is a 38-point turnaround. Was the Lakers' effort what caused all of those shots to go awry? No, not all of them. But an extra half step on a closeout can change the course of Battier 3-point shot completely. An additional half-second of defensive help around a screen can be the difference between Brooks finishing in the paint and having to dribble back out to the wing and restart the offense.

With 2:38 remaining in the fourth quarter, the L.A. crowd flooded the exits. That was only after a solid two minutes of fans doing the wave and chanting "We want Mbenga," trying to get backup center D.J. Mbenga in the game. You know the Lakers players' energy was infectious if Hollywood moguls were actually acting like rabid fans.

The Lakers led by 39 at the time of the mass exodus, the same margin by which L.A. lost Game 6 of last year's Finals in Boston.

They were on the opposite end of the spectrum on Tuesday because they willed themselves to be there.

They'll have to keep doing it the rest of the way to prove they can beat their own malaise and hide away the Hyde side for good.

NBA.com's Dave McMenamin will be covering the conference semifinals between the Lakers and Rockets. If you have a question or comment for him, send him an e-mail. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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