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Scott Howard-Cooper

Pau Gasol and Co. aren't stressing too much after dropping their last two playoff games.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

With series tied, Lakers take heart in past playoff stumbles

Posted Apr 27 2010 10:17AM

LOS ANGELES -- Competition freak Kobe Bryant was asked Monday if part of him relishes the challenge of the Lakers having their backs against the wall, and with a harrumph he answered, "Who said our backs are against the wall? It's a 2-2 series. What the hell is going on around here?"

As if he didn't know.

The Lakers are going on around here. The Lakers are always going on around here, exhilarating highs and demoralizing lows in a typical existence of wildly swerving emotions in the city that tracks them like no other, complete with breaking-news updates.

This just in: Panic in the streets!

The 2-0 advantage over the kids from Oklahoma City that once seemed insurmountable, the Thunder too inexperienced in the ways of the playoffs to beat the defending champions four times in five games, is suddenly gone. The Lakers had a bad couple nights at the Ford Center. Or at least that's how it went down in the record books. Back here, it practically started a run on water and canned goods.

Thus, a 2-2 series, but it looks worse than that. The Lakers couldn't put away a young team. They gave away a size advantage by jacking up 31 shots from behind the arc in Game 3. They got run out of the building in Game 4 as the Thunder dictated the tempo. And now Bryant is getting questions about growing old before our eyes and, as Kobe himself noted, Oklahoma City is playing with house money at this stage. The pressure is all on L.A.

If the Lakers aren't seeing it the same way, it's because they've been down this road of potholes before. Twice. In the last year.

In the 2009 first round, they wandered around in disinterested fashion, needing only five games to dispatch the Jazz but blowing leads along the way and looking like anything but a team capable of a title push. In the second round, against the Rockets without Yao Ming, the Lakers lost the opener at home and later eventually tied 2-2. A 40-point win in Game 5 seemed to restore order, until a 15-point Game 6 loss that forced L.A. all the way out on to a Game 7 ledge.

From that came a championship. The Lakers won the decider against Houston, were much sharper in beating the Nuggets in the conference finals, and ultimately handled the Magic to win the title. A regular season later, here they are again.

"I think we have the experience that we faced adversity before," All-Star Pau Gasol said. "We understand that this team [the Thunder] is playing really well and plays well at home. We had to face that last year and probably the year before, too."

Never has a history of underwhelming become such a source of confidence.

"The same thing happened to us," forward Lamar Odom said. "Houston in the second round. Right? Remember? Got our butts beat, convincingly. And they didn't have Yao. We were like, 'Damn.'

And now they're worried?

"Worried is the wrong word," Odom said. "Aware. Aware's the right word."

Said Gasol: "I'm not worried. I'm just with a lot of strength inside of me, just ready to play again in that Game 5. I think we need to regain ourselves, regain our confidence, regain our momentum in the series. We kind of lost it a little bit [Saturday]. It's just one game. It's 2-2. We still have home-court advantage. We're going to go home and do what we need to do."

The chance comes Tuesday night at Staples Center. A Lakers victory puts them back into control and the Thunder on the verge of elimination. An Oklahoma City victory becomes the latest worst-case scenario for the Lakers -- returning to the madness of the Ford Center on Friday night with their season, their title defense, their reputations on the line.

That, to answer Bryant's question, is what's going on around here.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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